Colorado Springs, Colo. - First impressions aren't always reliable at golf tournaments, major championship no exception. A big part of the challenge of tournament golf is in the consistency, the ability to put four good rounds together. It's one of the factors that separates the men - or in this case, the seniors - from the boys.
Suffice to say, anyone with the credentials to play in a major championship are capable of shooting at least one low round. Thus, it is not unusual to see surprise names on a leaderboard early in the week, names that have never before been there late in the week.
But the first round leaderboard of the 29th U.S. Senior Open has a distinctly genuine feel to it. With names like Fred Funk, John Cook, Eduardo Romero, Tom Kite and Andy Bean crowding for top-shelf space, the leaderboard at The Broadmoor is surprising in a different way – surprisingly deep.
"There are a lot of guys playing well right now," said Kite, who had an opening 67. "I'm just glad to be one of them."
Among those names mentioned, there are 49 PGA Tour wins, 23 Champions Tour wins and numerous international victories. There also are major championships represented on both the regular and senior version of PGA Tour golf. Oh yeah, and there also were several red numbers.
Fourteen players finished under par on Thursday, while seven more pulled in with even-par 70s. Funk led the way with a 5-under 65 that matched the mid-90s heat on the mountainside for sizzle. Even an amateur, Rick Cloninger, did some par-busting with a 2-under 68.
At the same time, Funk who was four under after just four holes, emphasized there are no layups on the course. "I think the golf course played the way they wanted it to play," said Funk, who won the Mastercard Championship at Hualalai earlier this year. "I didn't think it was really there for the taking. The pins were fair, but if you got on the wrong side of it, you’re not hitting fairways, you're in a lot of trouble out there."
With 54 holes to play, you can get in a lot of trouble still. And with all those thoroughbreds around the lead, the Battle at The Broadmoor is shaping up as a barnburner.
"It's a USGA championship, there's no mystery to what you have to do," said Cook, who contended at the British Senior Open last week and is back in the hunt with an opening 66. "You have to put the ball in play, and I don't think I missed a fairway." He was 14 for 14, to be specific.
Funk compared the course to Augusta National, home of the Masters Tournament. "You've got to position your tee shot and then you really have to work hard to control your irons. Those are the guys who are going to get rewarded.
"You can't get away with (poor shots) all through the course of a round or definitely four rounds. It's going to catch up with you. So, I think the guys that are playing their best this week are really going to be the guys that show up on top of the leaderboard. There are not going to be too many guys that are going to fake it around here and scramble their butt off because it's too hard to make the 5- and 6-foot putts."
One factor could be tee times, a.m. versus p.m. that is. Most players believe the course plays a little differently in the afternoon. Temperatures have been in the 90s all week and they are predicted to tease triple digits in the next few days.
"The way the altitude works is in the morning the ball travels, not like sea level, but you know, not quite what you're figuring," said Cook, who had a morning tee time on Thursday and will play his second round in the afternoon. "Once it warms up and the sun comes out, you can actually put the ball in the air and the ball will go; it goes a long way. So you have to kind of adjust through the day."
The players seem impervious to the high temperatures.
"The sun is pretty intense, but you don't sweat like you do on the East Coast. I love this climate. This is fantastic," said Funk. But the large, contoured greens at The Broadmoor figure to get drier, harder and faster as the week rolls on and the temperatures rise.
"These greens are absolutely championship greens," said Morris Hatalsky, who carded a 67 and is two shots back. "I noticed that the greens were releasing more as the day went on. So you're having to make more of an allowance in terms of the undulation and shots going into the greens."
Most players feel the scores will go higher over the next few days. Dave Delich, a six-time club champion at The Broadmoor, in the field as an amateur, finished with a 6-over par 76. He believes the cut on Friday afternoon will be in the same neighborhood – around six over par.
"I don't know what the USGA has intended," said Delich, a former hockey star at Colorado College. "They could move that number up and down based on course setup and other things. They had the course a little bit shorter today than it might be tomorrow. But I think 146 is going to be right there."
Perhaps R.W. Eaks, a Colorado Springs native who opened with a 72, put it best: "There's a long way to go. I imagine the greens will get a little faster, some of the pin placements might get a little tougher. We're just getting started."
Phillip Howley is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on www.ussenioropen.com.