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Covering the U.S. Open From a Paraglider

Donald Miralle got a unique view of Torrey Pines.

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As the leaders made their way to the dramatic 4th hole during the third round of last weekend’s men’s U.S. Open, Donald Miralle was actually leaving the Torrey Pines South Course. Other photographers readied their cameras to capture the drama on the long par-4 set against cliffs that drop dramatically down to the beach and water below.

“It’s the signature hole, in my opinion, at Torrey Pines,” Miralle says. “You’ve got the whole expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Behind the green there’s this dropoff to the water. And the paragliders, if the wind is right, they’ll be in big numbers going back and forth.”

Instead of shooting the action from the ground, Miralle scrambled to his car and drove about 15 minutes. He had one of those paragliders to catch.

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“When I’m at an event, I’m always kind of thinking about where I can go where other photographers aren’t,” he says.

Miralle has photographed professional golf at Torrey Pines for years, where the brightly colored wings of paragliders make for a stark contrast with the ground-bound golfers below.

But for the first time, he was about to be among them.

Miralle called a friend who is experienced in tandem flights and away they went, up and out over the Pacific.

“We’re walking up to the cliff and we’re talking about the view. Then, he made a joke and we just took off. The craziest part is that initial step off the cliff. You’re looking 300 feet straight down and it’s kind of against your common sense or instinct to walk off a cliff like that. As soon as you walk off, the wind catches and it’s pretty smooth from there. It gave me a different perspective of a place I’ve been a million times,” Miralle says.

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Miralle has shot aerial images before (in helicopters, for example) and knew that packing lightly would be key because he wouldn’t be able to change lenses. He took four cameras. He had one with a fisheye lens around his neck. Then on either side of his harness he had cameras with a wide angle lens and a medium zoom lens. In a pouch on his front, he had his GoPro 360-degree camera, which he used to shoot a video of the experience.

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“I wanted to line up the cliff and other paragliders and create layers to the scene because when I first got up there I thought I was going to be shooting down on the course,” he says. With it being a cloudy day, the hot air generated by the normally baking cliffside wasn’t strong enough to push the paragliders even higher into the air.

“Like everything else with photography, it’s about improvisation,” Miralle says. “You get a spot and just make the best of it.”

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Miralle, who has been contributing to SI since 1996, says he knew the risks associated with paragliding, but they didn’t deter him.

“Capturing peak moments from a unique perspective like these legendary sports photographers [at SI] is how I wanted to approach sports, and seemed like the best way to separate yourself from the pack. If you could be the one photographer at the event to get something different, then your chances of your photo being the one published would greatly increase,” he says.

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Down below, a new major champion was going to be crowned. Spain’s Jon Rahm capped off a dramatic final round Sunday with back-to-back birdies (and back-to-back fist pumps) to win the U.S. Open.

“This guy’s awesome,” Miralle says about Rahm. “He wears his emotions on his sleeve, which is great for golf. You want to see guys let the emotion go. You don’t want to see guys just tip their hats when they win a major. To each their own, but as a photographer you want to get a guy showing their emotions and putting it all out there.”

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Rahm emerged from a packed leaderboard as many of his competitors faltered during the back nine, forcing photographers to know where different players were on the course so they could be in position for what could be pivotal moments.INSERT JOHN RAHM PICTURE

Rahm emerged from a packed leaderboard as many of his competitors faltered during the back nine, forcing photographers to know where different players were on the course so they could be in position for what could be pivotal moments.

That’s part of why Miralle enjoys covering golf. It’s a challenge that requires both patience and execution.

“Golf is a hard sport to photograph because there’s so much walking and following and waiting involved for something to happen,” he says. “But, if you’re a young photographer, golf is one of the best things to shoot. It teaches you the basics: backgrounds, lining shots up, peak action and moments. If you can shoot golf well, you can shoot any sport well.”

To see more of Miralle’s pictures from Torrey Pines, click here. For more golf coverage, visit SI.com/golf.

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Full Frame is Sports Illustrated’s exclusive newsletter for subscribers. Coming to your inbox weekly, it highlights the stories and personalities behind some of SI’s photography.

To get the best of SI in your inbox every weekday, sign up here. To see even more from SI’s photographers, follow @sifullframe on Instagram. If you missed last week’s edition on what it takes to cover a men’s U.S. Open golf tournament, you can read it here.

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