|With a scenic mountainous backdrop, Tom Watson works on the practice range Wednesday at The Broadmoor. (John Mummert/USGA)
Colorado Springs, Colo. - Mark Wiebe gives lots of credit to his son, 19-year-old Gunner Wiebe, for helping him get back on track. Wiebe, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour, had a series of physical setbacks in recent years, including surgery on his left elbow that robbed him of his game.
But he worked his way back, often with the help of his son, who occasionally caddies for his father.
"People will ask him who his coach is and he'll say me and I'll just kind of wave in the background," said Gunner Wiebe, who is a sophomore at the University of San Diego.
Gunner Wiebe added it was tough to watch his dad struggle. "We'd go play at Cherry Hills and I'd watch him not break 80," the younger Wiebe said. "It was hard on him but I think it was even harder on me."
But Mark Wiebe found his way back. He began playing tournaments on the Nationwide Tour and began shooting rounds in the 60s again. "At first those kids would look at me and say, 'What the heck are you doing out here?’" said Mark Wiebe. "Then they were saying to me, 'Hey, nice playing.' "
Timing was everything. Just as Mark Wiebe's physical rehabilitation was complete and his golf touch was back, he turned 50 and became eligible for the Champions Tour. He won the SAS Championship late last season. It was the first time Gunner Wiebe had ever seen his father win.
"I know it meant a lot to him and my family, but it meant even that much more to me," Gunner Wiebe said.
The reinvention of Mark Wiebe has continued this season. He won the Cap Cana Championship in the Dominican Republic in April, the only player to post three rounds in the 60s. He has six other top-15 finishes, as well, and more than $730,000 in winnings, Wiebe is 11th on the Champions Tour money list and one of the favorites this week in his home state.
Graham Marsh officially withdrew from the championship on Wednesday, although apparently, Marsh essentially was never planning on playing. Once that information was shared, Steve Heckel of Carterville, Ill. was welcomed into the field. Heckel, 62, competed in sectional qualifying on July 7 in St. Louis. He shot a 72 at Westwood Country Club to earn first alternate.
Dale Douglass, a University of Colorado grad, is playing in his 23rd Senior Open at age 72. He's the oldest and most experienced player in the field. He explained how he accounts for the altitude and how it affects the flight of the ball.
"Somebody asked me the other day what percentage do I use to choose clubs," said Douglass. "I said I use 10 percent, because it's easier than nine or 11; the mat is easier."
Many players are saying the heat – around record levels for the area – will be a factor this week. But Colorado Springs native R.W. Eaks, who now lives in Arizona, doesn't see what all the fuss is about.
"To me, this is just a breath of fresh air, because it's 107, 108 (degrees) at home," Eaks said, "and these guys are complaining abut it being 95, 96. Shoot, this is like October for me. This is great."
Mark Wiebe would not, categorically, with tongue in cheek, say there are no Champions Tour players taking performance-enhancing drugs. But he is confident no one is taking golf performance-enhancing drugs. The Champions Tour is scheduled to being drug testing next year.
"On this tour? There's a bunch of jokes I'm thinking about right now," Wiebe said, with a smile. "If they want to drug test, that's fine. I think we're all kind of going, 'OK, fine.' I mean, we use Celebrex, and I'm one of those. I just can't imagine anybody doing anything other than that. But ... whatever."
Dave Delich was in the Senior Open media center on Wednesday to conduct a press conference. On his way out, he crossed paths and spent a few minutes talking with Tom Watson, thus fulfilling one of his goals this week.
"He's the one individual I was hoping to have five minutes with during the week," said Delich, a six-time club champion at The Broadmoor and former hockey star at Colorado College. "I've watched him my entire life. He's obviously just a few years older than I am, and I love the way he played the game and the way he took on people."
Watson, who flew to Colorado Springs on Sunday night after two weeks playing in Scotland, is still trying to get acclimated to the drastic changes in both time zones and golf course conditions.
"It's probably not enough time to get yourself acclimated," said Watson of the demanding schedule. "It's probably not enough (to adjust to the course) just to play two practice rounds. I'm still concerned about the strategy and the club selection I'll be playing with tomorrow.
"But I've played the game long enough to kind of understand that when you're unsure, you play a little safer. The main thing to know, they talk about the Will Rogers monument (on the side of the mountain) up there – keeping the ball on the other side of the flagstick of the monument. And that's pretty simple logic; it's right-on logic really."
Phillip Howley is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on www.ussenioropen.com.