|Tim Jackson and son, Austin, discuss the line on the eighth hole Thursday. (John Mummert/USGA)
Carmel, Ind. - Tim Jackson and his son, Austin, did more than play a round of golf at Crooked Stick on Thursday. They filled a scrapbook together. They weaved a story they will tell and re-tell for years to come. They spent a day together, father and son, experiencing their first U.S. Senior Open, seeing name "Jackson" atop the leaderboard, setting a USGA record.
All in all, not a bad day. "It's pretty exciting," Tim Jackson said.
With 15-year-old Austin toting the bag, the 50-year-old Jackson strolled around big, bad Crooked Stick in 66 swings, swiping six strokes from par and shattering the existing record low score for an amateur in the event. The previous low round of 68 was initially recorded in 1980, in the inaugural Senior Open at Winged Foot, by William Campbell and was matched on three other occasions.
It now belongs to Jackson alone. Not only that, but Jackson is the first amateur to have the lead or a share of it after any round of a Senior Open.
"I scraped out a few pars early, had a little case of the butterflies," said Jackson, who started on the back side. "But then I made a birdie at No. 15, scraped out some pars at 17 and 18, and then just went from there, got in a good rhythm and it just kind of went my way."
Jackson had a 16-foot putt for birdie on No. 9, his last hole, to take the solo lead in the championship, breaking the tie with pros Greg Norman, Dan Forsman and Joey Sindelar. His attempt ran true to the hole before dying on the edge, a half roll from paydirt. He settled for a 31 on his second nine, one off the Senior Open record for the low nine holes, and a share of the penthouse.
"I knew I was close to the lead and I was working pretty hard on that putt," Jackson said. "I probably just focused a little too much on the line and got away from my routine a little bit."
Jackson is no stranger to national championship golf. The Germantown, Tenn., product has enjoyed a highly-decorated amateur career and is scheduled to be inducted into the Tennessee Golf Hall of Fame later this year.
Jackson defeated Tommy Brennan 1-up to win the 1992 U.S. Mid-Amateur. Nine years later, he beat George Zahringer, 1-up, with a birdie on the 36th hole to capture a second Mid-Am title. He is a two-time U.S. Amateur quarterfinalist, losing to eventual champion Tiger Woods in 1994. Jackson has played in six USGA State Team Championships, leading Tennessee to the title in 2003 and posting the lowest individual score in 1995.
Jackson qualified for the Senior Open with a medalist score of 67 at the sectional in Gallatin, Tenn. But he did not anticipate the bell-ringing round he had at Crooked Stick.
"I struggled a bit with my swing (in practice rounds)," Jackson said. "I just kind of found something on the back. I just told myself to try to stay balanced on my feet. I felt like I was getting a little bit too much one way or the other.
"I just tried to stay real centered, rotate and get in a good rhythm with that driver. I started hitting it the fairway, and if you drive the ball in the fairway here, you can make some birdies." Jackson made six of the circles without a boxed subtraction. He hit nine of 14 fairways, needed just 25 putts and averaged 324 yards with his drives.
Crooked Stick is known for its length (for reference, see John Daly, 1991 PGA Championship). But distance was not an issue for Jackson. "You know, as firm as it is, if you drive it on the fairway, you are going to get a lot of finish on the ball," Jackson said. "I'm just trying to think ... my longest club on the front, on an approach shot, was an 8-iron.
"So, you know, the conditions can change, obviously. But this afternoon, the way the golf course was playing, I thought it played fairly short."
The experience of having Austin caddieing during the magical round made it extra special for both. Austin Jackson is due to try out for his high school golf team in a few weeks. "Oh yeah, this will be something we'll talk about for a long time, I'm sure," added Jackson.
In the meantime, Tim Jackson was just looking to have a nice dinner, relax and come back Friday with some momentum. That is where the father-son combo, 66 notwithstanding, had to take a back seat.
Asked where the two were headed for dinner, Papa Jackson explained: "My wife's already chosen. She rules the roost; everybody knows that."
Phillip Howley is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on www.ussenioropen.com.