|Amateur Tim Jackson took just 25 putts overall and carded a 31 on his back nine Thursday. (John Mummert/USGA)
Carmel, Ind. - There are horses for courses and then there are courses that bring out the horses. The latter expression seemed most appropriate for the first day of the Senior Open at long and lean Crooked Stick Golf Club.
At the end of the day, after a record 35 cards came in under par, after perfect conditions made Crooked Stick a cozy ride, there was a four-way tie at the top of the leaderboard. Familiar pros Dan Forsman, Greg Norman and Joey Sindelar were joined by less-likely amateur Tim Jackson, all congested at 6-under-par 66.
Also on the marquee was 11-time PGA Tour winner Andy Bean and three-time winner Fulton Allem, tied for fifth at 67. Then came last week's Senior British Open winner Loren Roberts (68), former British Open winner Tom Lehman (68), 2007 Senior Open winner Brad Bryant (68), 2008 JEDL-WEN Tradition winner Fred Funk, seven-time PGA Tour winner Scott Simpson (68), two-time Senior Open winner Allen Doyle (70) and two-time Senior PGA winner Jay Haas ... to drop a name or nine.
"Great names," said Sindelar. "Those are pretty much the names that tattoo me every week, except for Norman, and he only does that when he comes out.
"Of course, the cream will come to the top when these golf courses are this good and this tough, especially over four rounds. This is a longer journey than we play most of the year, so I would expect the galleries will be happy with the names they would see at the end of the week."
Many others traveled south of the par-72 border on the 7,244-yard layout. Former U.S. Amateur champ John Harris and 2008 Senior British Open champ Bruce Vaughn had 68s, Jeff Sluman a 69. The lengthy list represented a variety of styles, bombers and bunters. But mostly, to please the robust Indiana galleries and accommodate the benign conditions, there was star power.
"Well, it's a Pete Dye golf course, and he tests your shot-thinking ability," said Norman, whose only glitch was a bogey at No. 18. "There are things you can do out there to put yourself in a bad position, and Pete will always have something there to catch you, if he can do that.
"Every time I've gone to a Pete Dye golf course, I like the way he tactically builds the golf course. When you get up to a tee, you can't just pull out a driver, even though John Daly did that in '91. You've got to think about the shot, before you hit it, and a lot of the greens, especially the back nine, they've got a lot of undulations, so if you short-side yourself, it's difficult to get up and out like I did on 18 today."
Norman was ambushed at 18 by a teeing ground that had moved up 42 yards from the practice days. "There is a note on our lockers saying they would do that on some of the holes, and 18 caught me by surprise," Norman said. "When I got to the tee, I didn't have a line.
That said, Norman was rarely off line with his putter, as he spun through 18 holes in just 25 putts. As did Sindelar, as did Forsman, as did Jackson.
Without question, Jackson's 66 was the round of the day. The two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion (1994, 2001) smashed the previous record low score for an amateur – 68, shot on four different occasions – and became the first amateur to have the lead or a share of it after any round of the championship. Jackson, who began his day on the backside, finished his final nine in 31 strokes, one off the record.
His 16-foot putt for birdie on No. 9, to take the lead outright, died on the edge of the hole. Still, Jackson said he never rattled.
"I felt comfortable, very calm," said Jackson, who had his 15-year-old son, Austin, as his caddie. "I had a great group (that included Harris and Jeff Klein). John and I go way back to Walker Cup days. It was just a good afternoon. I got in a good rhythm and it just kind of went my way this afternoon."
While there weren't many crooked numbers at Crooked Stick, nobody seemed to mind. Bryant predicted the red cards and crowded leaderboard are the start of a slam-bang week. "You know, when the great players play great on great golf courses, they shoot good scores," said Bryant, who hit 16-of-18 greens and 12-of-14 fairways.
"I think the guys ought to be really commended on the way they addressed the golf course this week; it's tremendous. It's going to bring back some excitement into an Open, which I really like."
Phillip Howley is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on www.ussenioropen.com.