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PGA Championship at Bethpage has families hooked (and maybe playing hooky, too)

John Guerrieve, formerly of Massapequa, and son Cooper

John Guerrieve, formerly of Massapequa, and son Cooper were among those taking in the tournament's first round Thursday. Credit: Peter Frutkoff

School can wait for a day. And the office, well, it can do without mom or dad for an afternoon, too. 

Thousands of classrooms and workplaces were a bit emptier Thursday as families young and old played hooky to watch the opening round of the PGA Championship at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale.

For the masses crowding the fairways and greens to catch a glimpse of Tiger, Phil or Rory, the pageantry and star power of the PGA tournament is a family affair.

Will and Vanessa Guerrette of Portland, Maine, pulled their sons Will Jr., 7, and Phil, 4, out of first grade and preschool, respectively, for the tournament.

"One day is not a big deal," Will Guerrette said as his sons drank 24-ounce lemonades while watching Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler sink putts on the 17th green. "It's about having an experience with the players and letting the kids chase them down after the rounds to get autographs."

Will Jr. plays in USGA golf tournaments and is already beating his father — 25 times so far if you ask him. "I'm noncompetitive," Will Sr. conceded. "Not even close."

And when the children are too young to appreciate the links, that still leaves plenty of relaxation time for their parents.

Nancy Thennes of Milford, Connecticut, took in the tournament as she sipped vodka sodas with her daughter, Chrissy Santanello, while granddaughter Meadow, only 4 months old, napped peacefully in a stroller. 

"We love golf and it's such a beautiful day," said Thennes, a real estate agent. "It's just so great to be here with everyone."

With the sun shining brighter than it had all week, fans walking the Black Course, even through patches of mud, were in good spirits. Youngsters ran effortlessly down the hilly terrain while others took it slow, using canes or walkers to navigate the massive course.

Many carried stools or lawn chairs. Others chugged breakfast Budweisers, sipped chardonnay or smoked cigars as they hoisted binoculars for a glimpse of the action. The fans, anxious to document their moment in history, fervently snapped selfies and rushed to post the pictures on Facebook or Instagram. 

Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson each attracted massive crowds through late afternoon. But it was the all-star morning pairing of Tiger Woods, Brooks Koepka and Francesco Molinari that sparked the most noise.

Tiger, fresh off his win at the Masters — his first major victory in 11 years — attracted a personal cheering squad that erupted with every swing of his club. And when golf's biggest name drained a 30-foot putt on the fourth hole for eagle, the roar could be heard three holes away.

That was music to the ears of Andrew Ayo of Glen Cove, who arrived at the tournament in a full-body, orange-and-black tiger onesie.

"It helps me stick out in the crowd," said Ayo as he wiped beads of sweat from his brow. "The end goal is to get Tiger's attention. Just a point or a smile in my direction. That would definitely be worth it."

AJ Congero, also of Glen Cove, and his son, Matt Congero, 20, a golf pro at the Muttontown Club, opted for more traditional attire of shorts and a golf shirt. But the Congeros, who visited the course with Ayo, were in the spirit nonetheless.

"It's awesome to be able to do this with my son," said AJ Congero, the general manager of the Islanders' hockey practice facility in Eisenhower Park.

Others had a far longer journey to Bethpage. 

Bruce McNinch, his wife, Alexandra, and daughter Lottie, 4, arrived this week from England to see the sport's elite. Golf has bound the McNinch family for generations, he said, with the game passed on from his grandfather and then his father.

"And now I want to make this a tradition and something to come to every year," said McNinch as Lottie munched on a hot dog beneath a tree near the green on hole No. 2.

John Morytko of Byram Township, New Jersey, was also relying on snacks to occupy his son Jackson, 6. It's the first tournament for both father and son. And dad hopes not the last.

"It's great to get out and do this," said Morytko as Jackson bounced on his shoulders. "We call it 'boys time.' "

Correction: In a prior version of this story, the name of the club where Matt Congero works as a golf pro was incorrect.

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