For the love of the game
Volunteers at the U.S. Open help the championship run smoothly

By ALEX BELD - Daily News

June 16, 2017

Rick Kneser of Slinger raises a paddle to communicate with other volunteers on the green as French professional golfer Alexander Levy of Orange, Calif., takes a practice shot on hole No. 7 on Thursday afternoon during the first round of the 117th U.S. Open Championship at Erin Hills in the town of Erin.
John Ehlke/Daily News

TOWN OF ERIN Without an army of 5,500 volunteers, many visitors to the 117th U.S. Open at Erin Hills might end up heading in the wrong direction or going through the week confused with unanswered questions.

Some have five shifts spread from Monday through Sunday, while others are there for four long shifts starting Thursday. They spend hours in the sun or rain and paid $175 to be there.

Many of the eager volunteers at Erin Hills are from Wisconsin about 77 percent.

Volunteer Erik Tonnessen from Germantown said, I think its the fact that it was the first Open in the state, at least thats why this Wisconsinite volunteered, he explained.

Like other volunteers, Tonnessen did a half-day of training and has enjoyed his pass into the Open as well as a discounted round of golf at Erin Hills. These are just a few of the perks of a volunteer.

Other less local volunteers like Mark Moreno from Tacoma, Washington, take advantage of the free massages.

Its not a perk, its part of the routine, the veteran volunteer said. I get two or three a day.

The Erin Hills volunteer pin is seen on Cedarburg resident Tom Hudson's hat as he works on hole No. 7.
John Ehlke/Daily News

The experience is more of a vacation for Moreno, who spends plenty on airfare, hotels and food to do what he does.

Its a small price for a vacation, Moreno said.

Moreno has been a volunteer since about 2000 and started as a marshal, basically telling spectators when to be quiet and to put their phones away. Now hes on the Ball Positioning Committee.

We laser the ball, that tells the commentator how far they hit the ball from the tee, Moreno said.

After nearly two decades of making a vacation out of volunteerism, Moreno is somewhat recognized by USGA organizers at least his face gets recognized. More importantly, hes someone they want to keep coming back.

Im actually kind of on a preferred list, Moreno said. He explained most volunteers make it onto the list after a few years, but anyone is free to apply to any event.

Some other volunteers make their way onto the USGAs radar in a different way.

Tim Bruders of Pewaukee scans the crowd at hole No. 10 Thursday morning watching for cell phone use during the 117th U.S. Open Championship at Erin Hills in the town of Erin.
John Ehlke/Daily News

Dave Morris from Brookfield has been a member of the USGA for 40 years and, based on his zip code, he was asked to volunteer. In his first year at the U.S. Open hes a grandstand marshal.

Morris said for the most part hes there to make sure people have a good time. Hes found the experience enjoyable so far and enjoys meeting various people, something Moreno particularly enjoys as well.

Other than some neat swag, a chance to meet some of the pros and the occasional massage or donut, there seems to be one thing in common with most of the volunteers youll meet on the course: For the most part they just love golf.

I just like to do it, Im a golf fanatic kind of guy, Moreno said.