Fans at Northern Trust thrilled to be outside and ‘free’ amid COVID

·4 min read

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Chris Molicki just started playing golf, so he came up from Middletown to watch his first PGA Tour event.

Andy Goodelle came down with his wife and two children from upstate New York to North Jersey as part of their “summer vacation.”

And Jeff Miller traveled across the country, from Idaho, because attending a big-time tournament in the metropolitan area was on his “bucket list.”

Fans came from almost everywhere, in the face of the pandemic, to watch Thursday’s opening round of the Northern Trust, the first leg of the three-tournament FedExCup Playoffs.

“We figured today we were either going to play, or we were going to come here because it’s close enough – and I’m happy I came,” Molicki said.

Phil Mickelson draws a crowd as he tees off on 15 during the opening round of the Northern Trust Golf Tournament part of the PGA Tour being played at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City on August 19, 2021.
Phil Mickelson draws a crowd as he tees off on 15 during the opening round of the Northern Trust Golf Tournament part of the PGA Tour being played at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City on August 19, 2021.

There were few masks outdoors and plenty of smiles in the morning at Liberty National Golf Club, where the rain stopped about an hour before the first tee time, and the course offers incredible views of the Statue of Liberty and New York City skyline.

That the metropolitan area has been hit especially hard by the pandemic was not a deterrent for these fans. Neither was the mandate to wear a mask indoors, unless while eating or drinking.

“We’ve loved being able to open our gates to the community and offer a day out with friends and family,” Northern Trust executive director Julie Tyson said Thursday. “Watching fans throughout the golf course has felt overwhelmingly positive and we hope people continue to be safe while enjoying the tournament.

“The Northern Trust is thrilled to be an outlet for people looking to ease back into attending events. It has been a universal experience spending the past year-and-a-half isolating, quarantining and keeping our families safe.”

Count Molicki among the people who recently picked up the game of golf because it offered the best opportunity to play a sport in the face of COVID-19. He was introduced to the game by his brothers, Ryan and Sean.

“There’s really nothing else you could do,” Molicki, 29, said as he stood with friends outside the ropes at the 18th green. “It was something I was always interested in, but I felt like it was hard to pick up, because it’s a steep learning curve. But this was really the only way to interact with people socially, safely.”

Count Miller among the people who has lowered his handicap, from a 5 to below a 2, during the pandemic, because outdoor activities have been on the rise the past 18 months. He, too, was making his first visit to a big-time golf tournament.

“It’s kind of a bucket-list thing,” said Miller, 41, a teacher who sat in the stands above the first tee and planned to return to Liberty National on Friday and Saturday before returning home. “I have a friend who lives in Brooklyn, so we’re staying there at his apartment.”

Jeff Miller came form Nampa, Idaho to see golf during the opening round of the Northern Trust Golf Tournament part of the PGA Tour being played at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City on August 19, 2021.
Jeff Miller came form Nampa, Idaho to see golf during the opening round of the Northern Trust Golf Tournament part of the PGA Tour being played at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City on August 19, 2021.

Count the Goodelle clan among the people who wanted to attend last year’s U.S. Open in New York, but the pandemic denied fans the trip to famed Winged Foot in Mamaroneck. So Liberty National was the next-best option for the foursome from New Hartford.

“We wanted to come to a professional tournament, this is the closest one to us, and it fits in with our summer vacation,” said Andy Goodelle, a teacher. “So it’s worked out.”

“It’s fabulous,” said Nicole Goodelle, also a teacher. “And there’s so much in this area.”

Meanwhile, their children, Tommy and Natalie, have mixed feelings about golf. While Tommy is an accomplished young golfer and loves the sport – “I see golf and I just really want to play” – older sister Natalie is not as into it.

“I don’t really hate anything, but golf is one of the things that I hate,” said Natalie, 14. “But today has been very peaceful. I’ve really enjoyed today so far.”

Rob Shuster and his adult sons, Brian and Brett, came from New York City and were enjoying the day. Rob is a big fan of the sport.

“I enjoy golf a lot on television and I wanted to see it close-up, because TV you get a different perspective from being live,” said Shuster, who lives in Queens. “I just want to watch great golfers up close.”

Phil Mickelson approaches the green on 13 and acknowledges the applause from the gallery during the opening round of the Northern Trust Golf Tournament part of the PGA Tour being played at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City on August 19, 2021.
Phil Mickelson approaches the green on 13 and acknowledges the applause from the gallery during the opening round of the Northern Trust Golf Tournament part of the PGA Tour being played at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City on August 19, 2021.

Lyle Logan Jr. came from Chicago and was paying especially close attention to the players during practice. He plays college basketball at Suffolk University in Boston and respects what goes into preparing to play the game.

As he stood with his father overlooking the practice green, Logan said, “It’s the dedication the players have to take to be as good as they are.”

Up against the pandemic, Americans and beyond have had to wear masks while cooped up more indoors. Up against the backdrop of the Statue of Liberty and New York City skyline, fans at Liberty National could walk mask-free outdoors and smile.

“The pandemic’s been tough on everybody, but I’m glad I’m here, because I’m free,” Andy Goodelle said. “I feel like I can be myself in this venue. We’re outside doing things.”

Greg Mattura is a sports reporter for NorthJersey.com. For full access to live scores, breaking news and analysis from our Varsity Aces team, subscribe today. To get breaking news directly to your phone, sign up for our newsletter and download our app.