|Joey Sindelar and his caddie make the trek across a pond Friday. Sindelar had just driven off the fourth hole.(John Mummert/USGA)
Carmel, Ind. - This has been a golf season filled with surprises. An Argentinean won the Masters. The final round of the U.S. Open was completed on a Monday. A 59 year old came within a playoff of winning the British Open and a 33 year old named Tiger Woods missed the cut.
Strange days have found us, so why should things change be any different at the U.S. Senior Open this week? Why shouldn't Tim Jackson be the biggest surprise of all?
"Amazing an amateur's doing that," said Fred Funk, who is among the many on Jackson's heels. "I heard he just turned 50 and has put himself in this position, just keeps hammering down birdies. So he's doing a great job."
Jackson, the 50-year-old amateur playing in his first U.S. Open of any kind – regular or senior – continued his flirtation with history on Friday morning at Crooked Stick Golf Club. After a first-round 66 put him in a tie for the lead, Jackson upped the ante with a 5-under-par 67 to take the point outright at 11 under in the 30th playing of the championship.
An amateur has never won the title. William C. Campbell finished second at Winged Foot in 1980, the closest any has come. In fact, the last amateur player to win any USGA Open was Catherine Lacoste at the U.S. Women's Open in 1967.
"I know there will be rough patches," said Jackson, whose caddie is his 15-year-old son, Austin. "It's been all popsicles and lollipops so far, but I expect there to be some tough spots. Hopefully, we can keep a level head and work through them."
Playing the two nines in conventional order, Jackson got to 11 under before suffering his first bogey of the week on Crooked Stick's second toughest hole of the championship, No. 16. The par-4 No. 14 is playing as the most difficult hole thus far, with the field averaging a score of 4.435.
But after the hiccup, and after missing the fairway at 18, Jackson pinpointed an 8-iron from 172 yards to within 5 feet of the flagstick. He rolled in the putt for a round-closing birdie. While the round wasn't as tidy as his opening 66 – Jackson missed eight-of-14 fairways – his iron play was resilient and his putting (26 putts) was once again superb. Over two days, Jackson has putted only 51 times.
"The one thing I have done consistently is I've adopted a routine and I have not deviated from it," said Jackson, who did not begin playing competitive golf until he was 26. "And it just has totally freed me up to not be too concerned about the line. I've just been focusing more or less on the pace, and I've putted really nicely this week."
Given Jackson is from suburban Memphis, perhaps it's not so stunning to see him leading a championship at Crooked Stick. After all, another player with Memphis connections – John Daly – did pretty well here 18 years ago in the PGA Championship.
"Just having my son caddieing and the family here, it's been very special," Jackson said. "Regardless of what happens the rest of the week, these memories of the last couple of days and the fans pulling for you are just wonderful."
At the end of the day, the two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champ (1994 and 2001) enjoyed a one stroke edge over Joey Sindelar. With seven PGA Tour wins on his resume, Sindelar is looking for his first Champions Tour crown. The 51-year-old Kentucky native nudged alongside Jackson momentarily at 11 under, but a three-putt bogey at No. 7, his 16th hole, knocked him down a notch.
Nonetheless, he will play in the final tee time on Saturday with Jackson, and he is anxious to meet the amazing amateur. "I am thrilled to be in this position, and I do this for a living," Sindelar said. "So for a talented guy who isn't a pro, he has to be flyin' and that's awesome stuff, great story.
Sindelar added: "Look at what's going on out here – [Greg] Norman (at the British Open) last year, Tom Watson this year, and an amateur throttling us this week. It's great stuff. There is great golf being played at all levels, I do know that."
Funk, who has a Champions Tour major to his credit and eight PGA Tour wins, was next at nine under par after carding a second-round 67. Norman, who was tied for the lead at the start of the day, birdied his last two holes – Nos. 8 and 9 – to secure eight under and possession of fourth place. Dan Forsman, another first-round leader, birdied his last hole to get to seven under and fifth place.
Another surprising performer, Robin Freeman, reached six under for the week with his second-round 68. Like Jackson, playing in his first Senior Open, the 50-year-old Freeman is the only player to be medalist at the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament twice. But he has never won a PGA Tour event.
"I haven't played well lately in my career, over the past, I don't know ... 20 years," deadpanned Freeman, who has two Nike Tour victories to his credit. "No, but it's been a struggle for me lately playing golf, and it's good to get some good play going."
Freeman has distinguished company at six under, including 1996 British Open champ Tom Lehman and 2008 Senior British Open winner Bruce Vaughan. Last week's Senior British Open champ Loren Roberts is at five under, joined at the hip by 2007 Senior Open champ Brad Bryant, 1998 Masters and British Open winner Mark O'Meara and 1986 PGA Championship winner Bob Tway.
The 36-hole cut mark settled at 3-over-par 147 and included some notable casualties. Two-time winner Allen Doyle, Tom Kite, Fuzzy Zoeller, Larry Nelson, Vicente Fernandez, Ben Crenshaw and Lanny Wadkins were not among the 61 players to survive.
Phillip Howley is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on www.ussenioropen.com.