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Meet the U.S. Open's 83-year-old super fan

By Will Tidey, for CNN
  • Dorothy Durante, 83, fell in love with golf in the early 1970s when she started playing
  • She worked as a volunteer at U.S. tournaments for 21 successive years
  • Durante and her husband have been to three Masters and numerous U.S. Opens
  • This year's tournament at Congressional attracted fans from a wide spectrum of ages

Bethesda, Maryland (CNN) -- They come in their tens of thousands, wearing golf shirts and caps and ready to pay homage to the players who make their sport look easy.

They are golf's super fans, and nobody represents them better at this week's U.S. Open in Maryland than 83-year-old Dorothy Durante.

When I find Durante she's sat in the front row of the members' enclosure at Congressional Country Club, shaded by a large straw hat covered in U.S. Open badges, and with her eyes fixed on the 18th green below.

When a couple of passing fans block her view, it becomes apparent just how serious she takes the business of being a fan.

"Hey, duck down you guys," she yells. "Hey, haven't you ever been to a golf tournament before?"

Durante fell in love with golf in the early 1970s, after being encouraged by her husband and three sons to take up playing the game. It was either that, or stay at home on her own.

Golf's such a great thing -- such a heartbreaking, heart-warming, wonderful thing
--Dorothy Durante, 83

"Having three sons, you do masculine things. Everybody got me into it," she says. "Golf's such a great thing -- such a heartbreaking, heart-warming, wonderful thing."

Being a member at Congressional got her closer to the action than most. The PGA Tour's Kemper Open was held there from 1980-86, and Durante and her husband Ray worked every year as volunteers.

"I was never as good at playing golf as I'd liked to have been, that's why I volunteered," she says.

"I did the first Kemper here in 1980 and when the tournament moved to Avenel (the course now called TPC Potomac, Maryland) I worked there too. Overall I volunteered for 21 straight years."

In more than 40 years of following golf, the Durantes have been to countless tournaments, including three Masters and numerous U.S. Opens.

As seasoned veterans they've learned how to make the most of the experience, and when I ask Durante her advice for a first-time fan, she has a clear set of rules to follow.

"Watch somebody golf on TV before you come -- so you have an idea what it's all about," she says.

"If there's somebody who appeals to you, you come to the tournament, get a pairing sheet and find out where he is. And if you really like him, you follow him and learn more about him.

"And don't forget to bring a flask of drink and your sunblock."

I really like getting all the signatures on the flag and my hat. And I definitely want to do this again
--Hayley Rumble, 7

The players Durante holds dearest remain those she learned the game with -- the likes of American veterans Craig Stadler and Fuzzy Zoeller, who can now be found playing on the over-50s PGA Champions Tour.

Stadler won the Kemper Open twice at Congressional, and became so close with the Durantes that they once helped one of his children recover from measles.

"These young fellas, I don't know. But the old guys you really got a chance to be around," Dorothy says.

"Years ago we had golfers come here for a tournament who didn't have any money. We had to find a place for them to stay. These days they're all so wealthy."

Still playing the game into her ninth decade, Dorothy and her husband vacation regularly and get out on the course whenever they get a chance.

"I think mentally golf keeps me healthy. And at my age, anything that you can do physically is great," she says. "But we've got a new rule now. I hit my ball, then I pick it up and put it down next to his. And then I hit it again."

And with that Durante returns to the very serious business of being one of golf's most experienced and dedicated fans.

Local hero Fred Funk is on the 10th tee and she's not about to miss it. "Go Freddie," she shouts.

A few hundred yards away on the practice range, a golf fan at the opposite end of the age spectrum is hunting for autographs.

Seven-year-old Hayley Rumble is attending not only her first U.S. Open, but her first golf tournament.

Hanging over the barrier, holding out a tournament flag and with her bright pink cap already covered in signatures, she calls out to every golfer who comes past.

"My favorite players are Tiger Woods, Phil (Mickelson) and ... what's the other one called?" she says -- searching for the name of Rory McIlroy, golf's brightest young star.

"I'm having a really good time. I really like getting all the signatures on the flag and my hat. And I definitely want to do this again."

Hayley's father Shaun is pleased to hear it. He's been a golf fan all his life and was hoping he and his daughter could make this an annual adventure.

"She's enjoyed it and it's been a really good experience," he says. "We've got three generations here and we're having a great time."

By the time I turn back to Hayley, she's already gone. Colombian heart-throb Camilo Villegas is passing through the driving range and she desperately wants his autograph.

From first-timers to veterans, there are golf fans of every variety at this U.S. Open. And every single one of them is having a ball.