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Jun 13, 2018 9:43 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Greeting Committee: Volunteers From Southampton Golf Club Continue Tradition Of Marshal Duties At First Hole

James O'Shea and John Healy are part of a group of volunteers from Southampton Golf Club.  DANA SHAW
Jun 14, 2018 12:05 PM

It would be hard to find anyone having as much fun at the U.S. Open as James O’Shea and John Healey.The friends were part of a team from Southampton Golf Club who were working Tuesday as volunteers for the championship event at Shinnecock Hills, marshaling the first hole. Stationed near the green on Tuesday, the friends joked, laughed and spoke about the experience of working as volunteers at the major tournament, which Shinnecock is hosting for the fifth time in its storied history.

At the same time, up near the tee box, another Southampton Golf Club member, Denise Martorana, was embracing the volunteer experience for the first time—with, she said, a very specific motivation to give back to the game that has given her so much.

The thousands of volunteers who will work the Open this week are crucial to the vast and enormous machinery that makes the championship run smoothly. While many come from out of town, out of state and even out of the country, hundreds of local golf enthusiasts—including Mr. O’Shea, Mr. Healey and Ms. Martorana—embrace the experience that volunteering provides when the U.S. Open arrives in their backyard.

Ms. Martorana, 64, is no stranger to Shinnecock or competitive golf. She is one of the best amateur players on Long Island, a perennial club champion at Southampton and winner of many Metropolitan Golf Association championships in a long and successful run as an amateur competitor.

“If you want to get your [butt] kicked on the golf course by a woman, go play with Denise,” Mr. O’Shea said.

She’s also intimately familiar with Shinnecock, having played there many times. She worked as a volunteer when the U.S. Women’s Open came to nearby Sebonack Golf Club in 2013, but said she typically prefers to enjoy the Open as a spectator whenever it comes to the area.

Her perspective changed in August, when she was sidelined from the game she loves after being diagnosed with cancer. Several surgeries and months of chemotherapy and treatment followed, which is when she decided to put her name in as a volunteer for the men’s championship.

“I needed something to get me through, so I figured, you know what? Let me volunteer,” she said on Tuesday. She spoke during breaks from her post near the tee box, while waiting for the next group of players to tee off for their practice rounds, where she was in charge of making sure the fairway was clear before they teed off.

Ms. Martorana has a warm and welcoming personality, with an easy laugh and wide grin, and her deep love for golf, particularly on the courses in the town she loves, shines through when she talks.

“Normally I want to go out and just watch,” she said. “I’ve been to all the Opens here. But [volunteering] is just a different perspective on the game of golf and tournament golf. I figured, at this point, you embrace experiences you haven’t had before, check it off the list.”

It’s clear that Ms. Martorana is simply happy to be back on a golf course after a long layoff while she was in treatment for cancer. She started playing again less than two months ago.

“I didn’t play for six months, and that’s the worst thing you can tell me,” she said. “You can tell me I can’t eat or drink, but don’t tell me I can’t play golf.”

Playing and enjoying the game is part of life for Mr. O’Shea and Mr. Healey, too. Mr. O’Shea, an attorney in Southampton, and Mr. Healey, a real estate agent, recently took a golf trip to Bermuda together, and were happy to be on the course this week providing crowd control, opening and closing fairway gates to spectators, and finding balls that had been hit into the rough.

Mr. O’Shea worked as a volunteer when the Open was at Shinnecock in 1995 and 2004, while Mr. Healey is volunteering for the first time. They enjoy the inside access that comes with the territory, an experience that a general admission ticket can’t provide. Mr. O’Shea said he remembers being on the 16th green when Phil Mickelson birdied the hole on Sunday in 2004 to take the lead—only to watch him double-bogey the 17th hole to lose his chance at the trophy. He was front and center on the 18th green, as well, when the trophy was handed to the 2004 winner, South African Retief Goosen.

Like Ms. Martorana, Mr. O’Shea and Mr. Healey both said they are rooting for Mr. Mickelson this year, hoping to see him win the only major that has eluded him in his career, especially after his many runner-up finishes in the championship, including in 2004.

“It’s just a lot of fun being here,” Mr. O’Shea said. “You’ll be standing here and meet 20 people you know, from all over.”

Mr. Healey said that Southampton Golf Club has the good fortune of marshaling the first hole, an assignment that is the envy of other Long Island clubs working other holes.

“On Sunday at 2, when the last group has gone through, we’re done,” Mr. Healey said. “So we can go and watch the best part of the golf for the rest of the day, inside the ropes.”

Before he became an attorney, Mr. O’Shea worked briefly as a caddy at Shinnecock during his youth. “Then I went on to a greater calling of lifeguarding, hanging out at the beach all day without lugging heavy bags around,” he said with a laugh.

While he does not regret not making a career out of carrying golf bags, he did say he wishes he had taken better advantage of the job when he had it.

“I remember the old pro, Charlie Thom, would be walking around here with a golf club in his hand, just getting some exercise,” he said. “You’d think I would have asked him to show me how to hit out of a sand trap, or work on other shots. But because I was 14 years old at the time and not using my head, I didn’t.”

The opportunity to reminisce about their youth, a love of the game, and the front-row seat to a performance by the best players in the world that volunteering provides created a palpable feeling of infectious energy in Mr. O’Shea, Mr. Healey and Ms. Martorana, who were all clearly excited for the days ahead. For lovers of golf, the arrival of the U.S. Open to their hometown is special.

“We’re very lucky to have this,” Ms. Martorana said. “We have so many great courses nearby, with [National Golf Links of America], Sebonack, Southampton—but Shinnecock is special. To have such a world-class event in our little town of Southampton every 10 years or so. It’s great.”

Ms. Martorana said that as long as she’s still healthy, she’ll be back at Shinnecock when the Open returns in 2026, although she’s not sure if volunteering will still be an option.

“That’s my goal, to get to the next one,” she said. “I’ll be pretty old by then. I’ll have to get one of those scooters,” she added, with a laugh.

On a picture-perfect sunny, breezy day, that vision of the future was only a brief consideration.

“I don’t think I’m dying of old age,” she said. “But, right now, I’m on a golf course. So everything is right with the world.”

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