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No Rest for the Best Senior Golfers in the World

By: Tony Dear


Editor's Note: Here's Tony Dear's latest missive from the U.S. Senior Open at Sahalee.

After yesterday's travails on Sahalee's rapidly browning greens, competitors at the U.S. Senior Open would have reasonably expected a little break with the course set up and pin positions. They didn't get it.

All 18 greens were cut [Thursday] night and then again first thing Friday morning. Eight were then cut again because they obviously weren't as quick as the USGA wanted them. Five were rolled. Eventually, all 18 were running at 12'8" on the Stimpmeter, which is scary enough but utterly terrifying when you consider how contoured some of these greens are.

And, where the pins are set. Thursday afternoon, Mark Calcavecchia said the locations would probably be easier in the second round because they couldn't possibly get any harder. A look at Friday's pin sheet suggested that actually, USGA staff and superintendent Rich Taylor, had been able to find some equally sinister locations. Asked if today's pin placements were any easier, Bernhard Langer who shot a fine 2-under 68, was quick to respond. "No," the German said. "I don't think so. There were some very tough ones, and maybe a couple that were easier. But overall I don't think they were easier.

Falling Behind Freddie's Friday Following

Eager to catch Fred Couples' second round, I threw my free press-tent lunch in the trash after one bite and scurried over to the first fairway just 75 yards away. The problem was I couldn't reach the fairway because, after 65 yards, I hit a solid wall of spectators.

I looked around for a vacant spot that might afford a decent view of his approach shot to the green but there was no space available. This continued all the way to the sixth hole, where I gave up and decided to return to the safety and security of the press tent. It meant I missed his excellent par save on the eighth and huge birdie putt on the next. But I seriously doubt if a tenth of those out following Freddie this afternoon saw them either.

I've followed Tiger at St Andrews, Royal Birkdale, Lytham & St Annes, Pebble Beach and a few more, and swear I ended up seeing him hit more shots than I saw Couples hit today. At Sahalee, not only are you dealing with his enormous galleries, you also have to contend with a lot of trees that fail to respond when you ask them to move their limbs.

After following Couples' group for less than five minutes, it became apparent that not everyone in the gallery was what the USGA or National Golf Federation, or anyone else for that matter, would call a core golf fan and that many were out here to cheer on their homeboy rather than observe the quality golf on display.

At the 1st, I overheard a couple discussing the other players in Couples's group "There's that Tom Watson guy who won that tournament over in England last year," the husband/boyfriend/partner/brother? said. "And the other one is um, is, um…Edward Romero." At the aforementioned 1st, Tom Watson left himself a short putt for bogey having had to punch out of the trees following a pushed drive. As he lined up the putt, a shout rung out from the left side of the green. "Gabe, Gabe, where are you?" came the call.

A number of people turned to shhhhh the guy who everyone assumed was probably looking for his number one drinking buddy. Fortunately, Watson drained the putt, and then little Gabe, came running up to his Dad safe and sound.

Grip it 'n Hip it

One last comment about following the Couples/Watson/Romero group - this was a ball-striking master class. No, none of them played at their absolute bests, but those fortunate enough to be watching will surely have learned a very important lesson about the golf swing; namely, a light grip, good balance, smooth tempo and a quick hip turn are really all you need to smash the ball 290 yards down the hole. During my most recent lesson, the pro told me about the effect of quick hips on club-head speed. Conscious, therefore, of how quick Couples and, especially Romero, rotate their hips in the downswing, I quickly came to the realization that I will never hit the ball 290 yards.

Cut & Wet

It's not yet clear whether or not everyone will finish their second rounds and that the cut will be made this evening. If they do get everyone 'round, then those at the back of the pack should enjoy some conditions tomorrow morning that are more conducive to good scoring than what we have seen so far.

The marine layer of clouds, which usually moves out by mid-morning, is expected to linger a little longer tomorrow and actually emit some precipitation. It's not expected to rain exactly, but some drizzle is in the forecast. Drizzle won't have a profound effect on the nature of the course, but it could be the softest we've seen it all week, meaning those out early could shoot at a few pins, post their 68s, then sit back, watch the sun emerge and observe the leaders contend with quick-drying greens and those ugly "hot spots" once again.

Wedgeless in Seattle

While warming up on the range this morning, Olin Browne noticed the head of his pitching wedge had worked loose. Not convinced it would remain intact were he to use it, and unable to find a replacement in time, Browne put it in his locker and played the round with 13 clubs. It didn't seem to bother him.

On two occasions, the 51-year-old put the ball back in his stance and played his 54-degree wedge where he would have hit the damaged PW. He made birdie both times and ended up with a level-par 70.

Tony Dear is an Englishman living in Bellingham, Wash. In the early 1990s he was a member of the Liverpool University golf team which played its home matches at Royal Liverpool GC. Easy access to Hoylake made it increasingly difficult for him to focus on Politics (his chosen major) and, after dropping out, he ended up teaching golf at a club just south of London where he also made a futile attempt at becoming a "player." He moved into writing when it became abundantly clear he had no business playing the game for a living. A one-time golf correspondent of the New York Sun, Tony is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, the Pacific Northwest Golf Media Association and the Golf Travel Writers Association. In 2009, Tony won first place for Editorial/Opinion in the ING Media Awards for Cybergolf. The article (http://www.cybergolf.com/golf_newsa_euros_take_on_the_2008_ryder_cup_matches) that impressed the judges was the one about Europe's Ryder Cup team and Captain Nick Faldo's decision to pick Paul Casey and Ian Poulter rather than Darren Clarke.