Kohler, Wis. - At the site of yet another major championship socked by heavy rain and the threat of lightning, you could only anticipate that the word "patience" would be forming quickly on the lips of the championship's protagonists. But players didn't wait until the inclement weather raked Whistling Straits late Thursday afternoon before interjecting comments of that very nature.
Friday could be a long day for many of the over-50 set; at least half of the field (78 players) had not completed their opening round of the 28
thU.S. Senior Open when dangerous weather halted play at 5:05 p.m. CDT. They must turn right around later in the day for another tour of the difficult Pete Dye-designed layout that is as mesmerizing to the eyes as it is mystifying to the mind.
Good players appreciate a difficult golf course and Whistling Straits is receiving its share of grudging kudos. But no one yet has volunteered to set up a summer home nearby. This is a U.S. Open-style championship on a British Open-type layout, so the outlook for Friday and beyond is to monitor who best handles the test of nerve, verve and swerve.
"On a lot of courses, how you play is how you score, but that is not true here," said two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange after he opened with an even-par 72. "Good ball-striking will help your percentages of getting a good result, but it's still hit it and hope. You're going to go through a lot of mental escapades here. You're going to get tattooed a couple of times (on bad bounces) and sometimes you're going to get a good bounce. Of course, we always think we're going to get a good bounce."
There seemed to be enough good bounces to keep scores from getting out of hand Thursday; 24 men were under par at various stages of their rounds. Not everyone was accomplishing that with pristine golf, either. Case in point: Ben Crenshaw, whose renowned putting touch was working magic at Whistling Straits. He stood one under par through 13 holes despite hitting five fairways and three greens in regulation. He'd only needed 15 putts, however.
Check out the fortunes of Jon Fiedler and playing partner Mike San Filippo. At the par-3 17
th, both men hit toward the back of the green. Fiedler, who carded a 69, managed to scrape out a bogey. San Filippo went a few feet farther and suffered a quintuple-bogey 8.
"It's really punitive," Fiedler said. "I think all the player agree with me; a little off, and without a little bit of luck, you can make a big number."
Several players invoked the British Open description to the examination, but that doesn't necessarily mean much if the end result is affected mostly by methods of American know-how. "You are going to have bounces out there, but this place still rewards a guy who hits it pretty straight and has a great short game," said Scott Simpson, the 1987 U.S. Open champion. "It's still the U.S. Open, as far as what you have to do."
Strategic understanding of a layout also comes in handy. Too bad it won't be in abundance this week. Guys just have to convince themselves that boring golf equals good golf. Fewer adventures should preserve scorecard sums and synapse.
"There's no way to learn everything about this place in a week," Strange said. "There's so much to it. It keeps you on edge all the time. By the end of the week, there's going to be some frazzled nerves. You basically start praying as soon as the ball is in the air."
Friday, all the boys return for some more time in church.
Dave Shedloski is a freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on www.ussenioropen.com.