118th U.S. Open Championship

118th U.S. Open Championship

long island was my Childhood home, so it was nice to be able to head back again for this year's U.S. Open at shinnecock hills out in Southampton. Okay, so southampton is about 2 hours and a tax bracket or two from where I grew up, but there was still a familiarity to it that brought back memories of my youth. 

Maybe it was the salt-filled sea breeze (albeit off of the dunes of the Hamptons, rather than Atlantic Beach), a fescue-lined, old guard golf course (albeit Shinnecock, rather than my boyhood haunt of Garden City), or the, um, positive attitudes of the friendly New Yorkers I encountered (albeit rather enthusiastic golf fans lining the fairways rather than the harried Dashing Dans I encountered on my high school commute to Manhattan).

Shooting for the United States Golf Association, this was an assignment that comprised nine long days on a tough walking course. They say that the U.S. Open is golf's hardest test, and while I know that's supposed to be directed at the golfers, that might as well be true for a golf photographer as well. Shooting a U.S. Open for the host organization requires every club in your bag, metaphorically speaking--from long lenses on monopods to wide angles on 25-foot extension poles, from a peaceful dawn shoot with a solitary groundskeeper mowing a green to jostling your way along with the traveling circus of a Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson gallery, from setting a camera flat on the green at sunrise as a hole is cut, to hanging a remote camera in the grandstand on the 18th when the last putt drops on Sunday.

Here are some of my favorites from the week.

  Rickie Fowler tees off at the first hole during Saturday's third round.   Sony A9, Leica 35mm f1.4 Summilux.  ©USGA/Darren Carroll

Rickie Fowler tees off at the first hole during Saturday's third round. Sony A9, Leica 35mm f1.4 Summilux. ©USGA/Darren Carroll

  Tiger Woods, 1st fairway, Tuesday practice round.   Sony A9, Sony 70-200mm f2.8 GM-OSS.  ©USGA/Darren Carroll

Tiger Woods, 1st fairway, Tuesday practice round. Sony A9, Sony 70-200mm f2.8 GM-OSS. ©USGA/Darren Carroll

  Bryson DeChambeau signs autographs.   Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM.  ©USGA/Darren Carroll

Bryson DeChambeau signs autographs. Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM. ©USGA/Darren Carroll

  Mike "Fluff" Cowan, Jim Furyk's caddie, makes his way to the 5th tee during Friday's second round.    Canon EOS 1DX-Mark II, Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8LII   ©USGA/Darren Carroll

Mike "Fluff" Cowan, Jim Furyk's caddie, makes his way to the 5th tee during Friday's second round.  Canon EOS 1DX-Mark II, Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8LII  ©USGA/Darren Carroll

  Player badges await their owners in the player registration office early in the week.   Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM.  ©USGA/Darren Carroll

Player badges await their owners in the player registration office early in the week. Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM. ©USGA/Darren Carroll

  The walk from the first tee.   Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM.  ©USGA/Darren Carroll

The walk from the first tee. Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM. ©USGA/Darren Carroll

  At 5:30 a.m. on the dot, the USGA's Jeff Hall sets the tee markers at the first hole before Friday's second round.   Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM.  ©USGA/Darren Carroll

At 5:30 a.m. on the dot, the USGA's Jeff Hall sets the tee markers at the first hole before Friday's second round. Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM. ©USGA/Darren Carroll

  Clubhouse windows at sunrise.   Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM.  ©USGA/Darren Carroll

Clubhouse windows at sunrise. Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM. ©USGA/Darren Carroll

  18th hole grandstand at sunrise.   Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM.  ©USGA/Darren Carroll

18th hole grandstand at sunrise. Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM. ©USGA/Darren Carroll

  Setting the hole location on the 2nd green.   Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM.  ©USGA/Darren Carroll

Setting the hole location on the 2nd green. Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM. ©USGA/Darren Carroll

  Setting the hole location on the 2nd green.   Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM.  ©USGA/Darren Carroll

Setting the hole location on the 2nd green. Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM. ©USGA/Darren Carroll

  In one of the most fascinating practice sessions I've ever seen, Bryson DeChambeau (center) works with coach Mike Schy (left) and caddie Tim Tucker on the driving range .   Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM.  ©USGA/Darren Carroll

In one of the most fascinating practice sessions I've ever seen, Bryson DeChambeau (center) works with coach Mike Schy (left) and caddie Tim Tucker on the driving range . Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM. ©USGA/Darren Carroll

  2017 Women's Amateur Four-Ball champ Alice Chen tees off at the 10th during Tuesday's Celebration of Champions exhibition.   Sony A9, Sony 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 G-OSS.  ©USGA/Darren Carroll

2017 Women's Amateur Four-Ball champ Alice Chen tees off at the 10th during Tuesday's Celebration of Champions exhibition. Sony A9, Sony 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 G-OSS. ©USGA/Darren Carroll

  Brooks Koepka tees off on the 7th hole during Saturday's third round.   Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM.  ©USGA/Darren Carroll

Brooks Koepka tees off on the 7th hole during Saturday's third round. Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM. ©USGA/Darren Carroll

  Phil Mickelson walks to the 18th green during Friday's second round.   Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM.  ©USGA/Darren Carroll

Phil Mickelson walks to the 18th green during Friday's second round. Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM. ©USGA/Darren Carroll

  Phil Mickelson tees off on the 18th hole during Friday's second round.   Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM.  ©USGA/Darren Carroll

Phil Mickelson tees off on the 18th hole during Friday's second round. Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM. ©USGA/Darren Carroll

One unexpected treat awaited me at the course. I made the complete switch to Sony equipment at the end of last year--at least, as far as Sony's equipment lineup would allow. For example, I've still been using my old 400 2.8, only having heard rumors that Sony was developing one, and that it would be out soon.

The rumors were true. The folks at Sony Pro Support brought a couple of the soon-to-be-released 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS lenses along with them, and let me try one out for the week. For those of you who prefer the short version of a review, here it is:

Damn.

If you'd prefer something a little more in-depth...

This lens is amazing. Light as a feather, and sharp as a tack. The weight is one thing; at just under 6 1/2 pounds, that makes it 2 pounds lighter than its Canon counterpart and almost 4 pounds lighter than Nikon's, based on the manufacturers' published specs. But it's the balance that does the trick, really. Sony has designed this lens with its main (read: heaviest) elements exactly where your hand would/should rest on the barrel in its natural handholding position, tucking your left elbow in against your body. The result is nothing short of game-changing; I (in the midst of rehabbing a left shoulder injury, no less) spent the entire week hand-holding this lens, never touching a monopod with it once. I walked around the golf course with it slung over my shoulder on a strap as effortlessly as I would carry a 70-200mm zoom. 

The benefits of being able to work this way--from not having to worry about a monopod, to not having to physically place the camera/lens on the ground to shoot with another camera/lens combination, to having the increased mobility that such a setup provides, cannot be overstated. Plain and simple, this lens allows for a better, more efficient, and less physically taxing way to work. And when "work" involves walking about 10 miles over uneven terrain for 6 or 8 hours at a time, well, you can see what I'm getting at.

And the sharpness? As the New York golf fans would say, "fuhgeddaboutit." Unreal. I was blown away by the quality of the images, most of which I shot wide open. Bokeh was beautiful (see the frame of Phil Mickelson's tee shot below) and the contrast and color rendition flawless (have a look at the Rory McIlroy frame that follows in particular). I shot hand-held down to 1/250 of a second at some points, and the image stabilization functioned perfectly.

Have a look at the next couple of images for some real-world examples of what it can do.

  Rory McIlroy watches his tee shot at the 17th during Friday's second round.   Sony A9, Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS.  ©USGA/Darren Carroll

Rory McIlroy watches his tee shot at the 17th during Friday's second round. Sony A9, Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS. ©USGA/Darren Carroll

  Dustin Johnson plays from a bunker at the second hole during a practice round.   Sony A9, Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS.  ©USGA/Darren Carroll

Dustin Johnson plays from a bunker at the second hole during a practice round. Sony A9, Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS. ©USGA/Darren Carroll

  Tiger Woods during a Tuesday practice round.   Sony A9, Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS.  ©USGA/Darren Carroll

Tiger Woods during a Tuesday practice round. Sony A9, Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS. ©USGA/Darren Carroll

  Ian Poulter plays his second out of the fescue at 15 on Saturday.   Sony A9, Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS.  ©USGA/Darren Carroll

Ian Poulter plays his second out of the fescue at 15 on Saturday. Sony A9, Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS. ©USGA/Darren Carroll

  Phil Mickelson tees off at the 7th during Friday's second round.   Sony A9, Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS.  ©USGA/Darren Carroll

Phil Mickelson tees off at the 7th during Friday's second round. Sony A9, Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS. ©USGA/Darren Carroll

  Flags at the clubhouse seen from down at the first green.   Sony A9, Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS.  ©USGA/Darren Carroll

Flags at the clubhouse seen from down at the first green. Sony A9, Sony 400mm f2.8 GM-OSS. ©USGA/Darren Carroll

For the second year in a row, Brooks Koepka prevailed, which meant that for the second year in a row I had the chance to document his post-round activities, which included a stop at the engraving station to see his name etched into the champion's trophy yet again. Not that he minded. 'This never gets old," he said as he and his family watched the proceedings.

  Brooks Koepka makes his final putt at 18 on Sunday.   Sony A9, Leica 35mm f1.4 Summilux..  ©USGA/Darren Carroll

Brooks Koepka makes his final putt at 18 on Sunday. Sony A9, Leica 35mm f1.4 Summilux.. ©USGA/Darren Carroll

  Victory assured, Brooks Koepka and girlfriend Jena Sims leave the 18th hole after the final round.   Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM.  ©USGA/Darren Carroll

Victory assured, Brooks Koepka and girlfriend Jena Sims leave the 18th hole after the final round. Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM. ©USGA/Darren Carroll

  Champion Brooks Koepka joins Golf Channel's Todd Lewis for a television interview following his win.   Sony A9, Sony 12-24mm f4 G.  ©USGA/Darren Carroll

Champion Brooks Koepka joins Golf Channel's Todd Lewis for a television interview following his win. Sony A9, Sony 12-24mm f4 G. ©USGA/Darren Carroll

  Champion Brooks Koepka watches as his name is engraved on the trophy for the second straight year.   Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM.  ©USGA/Darren Carroll

Champion Brooks Koepka watches as his name is engraved on the trophy for the second straight year. Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM. ©USGA/Darren Carroll

  Champion Brooks Koepka during a television interview following his win.   Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM.  ©USGA/Darren Carroll

Champion Brooks Koepka during a television interview following his win. Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM. ©USGA/Darren Carroll

  The engraver puts the finishing touches on Brooks Koepka name on the champion's trophy.   Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM.  ©USGA/Darren Carroll

The engraver puts the finishing touches on Brooks Koepka name on the champion's trophy. Sony A9, Sony 24-70mm f2.8 GM. ©USGA/Darren Carroll

Who knows, maybe we'll all get to do it again next year, too.