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Scenes from the U.S. Open

Cheryl VanValkenburgh left her home in upstate Schenectady at 3:30 a.m. Monday and drove three hours in order to get to Bethpage State Park by 6:45 a.m. She arrived in time to see Tiger Woods tee off at 7:30 a.m.

"I didn't even sleep last night because I was so excited," said VanValkenburgh, 27, a self-professed golf nut. "I knew that Tiger tees off early."

She was among a throng of fans who followed Woods in the rain as he played nine holes Monday morning.

"He's amazing," she gushed. "There was a mad rush and it was pouring at the time."

VanValkenburgh, who works in emergency 911 testing, said she plans to be at the U.S. Open all day every day except Sunday - because it's Father's Day.

-- JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER

Mark Fields, 55, a hairstylist from Commack who's played the Black about 30 times, said the professionals must remember to conserve their energy for the hilly hikes toward the back nine, when the course's sheer length becomes apparent.

"By 15, you're dragging, 15 to 18 are the toughest holes of the day every time," Fields said. "Drink a lot of water. Definitely bring a snack. The good thing about all the walking is you have time to think about your shot."

-- MICHAEL AMON

Most people needed help finding the restrooms. A few wanted to know where they could spot Tiger Woods. One aspiring golfer wanted to know when Bethpage Black will reopen for public use.

But the most memorable question posed to information booth volunteer Cindy Chu yesterday might have come from the people who wanted to know where the driving range is located: Facing Chu, the questioners stood with their backs facing the bleachers of the elusive patch of green.

Chu, a 36-year-old real estate investor who lives in Battery Park City, said she's poised for many more questions after helping more than 100 lost golf fans yesterday.

"It's going to get more hectic," she said. "But I like golf, it's fun to be out, and we'll get to see some golf when we're not working."

Chu said she became a golf fan because of her husband Scott's passion for the game. Scott, an attorney, plans to sneak out to Bethpage during the week to see some rounds, she said.

-- PATRICK WHITTLE

Hats are always popular on golf courses, but even more so yesterday at the U.S. Open. Heavy early-morning rain had people rushing to the huge merchandise tent to pick up hats costing between $22 and $28 each, said Mary Lopuszynski, director of licensing and merchandising for the USGA.

The hats - white and blue and embossed with the words "U.S. Open Bethpage Black" - were the hottest sellers at the tent, which offers 500,000 items, including clothing, golf equipment and monster-sized rubber golf balls.

"The hats are low-priced," Lopuszynski said. "And if you're buying one for a friend, you don't need to know their [head] size."

Lopuszynski said the merchandise tent should not run out of hats. It has 110,000 of them for sale.

-- JAMES BERNSTEIN

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