Zoeller: An Open Requires Smarts

By Dave Shedloski
July 27, 2009
Fuzzy Zoeller, working his way around Crooked Stick Tuesday, hasn't been back to the club to play since the 1991 PGA Championship. (John Mummert/USGA)

Carmel, Ind. – Local favorite? Yes. Local knowledge? Not so much.

Fuzzy Zoeller, a lifelong Indiana resident, is an honorary member of Crooked Stick Golf Club, and he'll certainly be one of the crowd favorites at this week's U.S. Senior Open. But the former U.S. Open champion, while familiar with this renowned Pete Dye-designed course, can't say that he has an edge on the other 155 players in the field.

Zoeller, 57, lives about two hours south of Indianapolis in New Albany, just across the river from Louisville, Ky. Until his practice round Monday, the wisecracking shot-maker (shot-maker having a dual meaning now that Zoeller markets his own brand of vodka) hadn't hit a shot on Crooked Stick's meandering fairways since the 1991 PGA Championship won by John Daly.

"Now people ask me if I have been up here since '91, and I have not. I have not," Zoeller said with a hint of regret. "The last thing I want to do when I come home is go play golf. I own two courses at home, and I never play them. It's just one of those things.

"God bless them, they made me an honorary member … or was it ornery member. They said one of those two words. I can't really remember. But no, I haven't had an opportunity to get up here. I would love to have, but I just didn't have time."

Zoeller proudly can say that whatever the venue, he understands how to win a U.S. Open. He bested Greg Norman in a playoff to win the 1984 title at Winged Foot, one of 10 PGA Tour victories in a career that also included the 1979 Masters.

He played in his final Masters earlier this year, shooting 79-76-155 to miss the cut, part of a disappointing season that has seen him post just one top-10 finish in 12 starts on the Champions Tour.

"I've been hitting the ball pretty well. It's a matter of if the putter wants to act right or not," said Zoeller, who admitted he prepared for this week by fishing in Montana and in Canada. "I've got a good feel. I'm just not making anything. That's kind of the way it runs. I'm like probably three-fourths of golfers who play this crazy game are streaky golfers. You kind of we go as our putters go. Once you start making putts it takes all the pressure off the rest of your game.

"(But) it's an Open golf course. I'm not real sure you need a hot putter; I just think you need to play smart."

In seven previous U.S. Senior Open appearances, the best Zoeller has managed is a tie for fourth in 2003, his second start. He has only broken 70 four times in 26 rounds, the last time in '06 when he tied for 23rd after a closing 69 at Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson, Kan.

Crooked Stick might play as long as 7,316 yards this week, surpassing last year's examination at The Broadmoor as the longest layout in U.S. Open history. Zoeller was on hand last year at the club when Dye talked about lengthening the course, worried that the over-50 set might struggle with the length. But after seeing the setup, Zoeller had no complaints.

"I think the USGA, they don't get a lot of credit, and probably don't deserve a lot of credit, but I'll give 'em a little credit this week," said Zoeller with a smirk. "They set this golf course up very, very fair for the players. I think there will be probably some good scores shot, but I think overall the golf course will win."

As for who wins over the fans, Zoeller is a good bet. There can be extra pressure in playing in front of friends and in-state neighbors. Tom Watson found that out at Prairie Dunes in his runner-up finish in '06, and Kentuckian Kenny Perry likewise went through those emotions at last year's Ryder Cup at Valhalla Golf Club, near Louisville.

Zoeller figures it's better to be in that position than to miss out.

"I don't think of it as pressure; embarrassment maybe, if I don't show. All I can do is try," Zoeller said. "I told the guys on the radio the other morning that I tell everybody like I tell my wife every time I leave the house: Always assume I am trying. Even though it doesn't look like it, and I'm out there chopping around like some hack, I am trying my damndest."

Dave Shedloski is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on www.ussenioropen.com

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