Toledo, Ohio – Inverness Club finally showed its backbone.
And Olin Browne, who spent three rounds rewriting the U.S. Senior Open record book, proved he had the mettle to handle the demanding final-round test and win the 32nd edition of the championship.
Browne, 52, gutted out an even-par 71, draining a 28-foot birdie on the 72nd green to finish at 15-under-par 269 for a three-stroke victory. He became the first wire-to-wire winner of the championship since Dale Douglass in 1986.
He also waited nearly 33 years for the win, as well.
“When I started playing golf, my [girlfriend and future wife] … we'd go to the driving range, a little dumpy par‑3 course with a driving range called Arroyo Seco,” said Browne, who took up the game at age 19 while at Occidental College in Los Angeles. “And I'd tell her, this is the U.S. Open."
“What's the shot here? She would say, ‘All right. U.S. Open, 700 yards, par‑4.’ I said, ‘That's not how it works. How about 440, dogleg right?’ and then I'd hit a shot. So this goes back a long way for us.”
Mark O’Meara played the final 36 holes with Browne and shared the lead with him at three junctures on Sunday, but ultimately finished runner-up at 12-under 272. Mark Calcavecchia got to within two strokes of the lead on the inward nine, but finished at 11-under 273. Hale Irwin, the 1979 U.S. Open champion here, and Ohio State University grad Joey Sindelar tied for fourth at 10-under 274.
For three rounds, Browne was virtually flawless, setting the 54-hole scoring record of 15-under 169. He hit no fewer that 12 fairways and needed no more than 28 putts in any one round. On Sunday, Browne hit just seven fairways and needed 32 putts.
“I don't think it matters how you win,” said Browne, who notched his first Champions Tour victory. “I don't think it matters whether you shoot 63 coming from the pack. I don't think it matters if you shoot 75 after having a six‑shot lead. But it certainly was a lot harder, and I think this will be a confidence boost for me to know that I can hang in there when I don't have my game, and I sure as heck didn't have my game today. “
O’Meara began the final round two shots back of Browne and tightened the pursuit by hitting a 9-iron to 12 feet and making birdie on the 398-yard, par-4 opening hole. He tied the score at 15 under by two-putting from the fringe for birdie at the 514-yard, par-5 fourth hole. That began a four-hole stretch of birdie-bogey-birdie-bogey. When Browne bogeyed the 565-yard, par-5 eighth, the two were tied for a third time at 14 under.
O’Meara missed a couple of opportunities to take the outright lead, at the par-4 10th and 11th holes and then fell behind with a bogey at the 461-yard, par-4 13th. He made another bogey at the 488-yard, par-4 16th and fell two shots back of Browne.
“I didn't really putt as well,” said O’Meara, 54, winner of the 1998 Masters and British Open champion who also owns a Champions Tour major, the 2010 Senior Players Championship. “I really needed to make the putts on 10 and 11, and I didn't make those. Some of the other holes I was kind of tentative and left them short, but I needed to put more pressure and get kind of over the hump, and I didn't do that.”
Calcavecchia began the final round six strokes back of Browne and chipped away at the margin. With a 100-foot birdie bomb on the 200-yard, par-3 12th, Calcavecchia, the runner-up at last week’s Senior British Open, moved to 12-under and two back of co-leaders Browne and O’Meara.
Calcavecchia gave the stroke back on the 13th and held on for third.
“The way I felt today, it was kind of a miracle, so I'm happy with that. Just didn't feel too good today,” said Calcavecchia, jokingly admitting that it might have been a case of dehydration from one too many beers and something he ate. “Little shaky with the putter and didn't hit enough fairways today. All in all, obviously, very happy with the week.”
But the week belonged to the stoic Browne, who was able to erase memories of the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. Browne was the 36-hole co-leader, and entered the final round three strokes back of leader Retief Goosen. He shot 80 on Sunday to tie for 23rd.
“Olin didn't get off to the quickest start but he hung in there, never gave up the ship,” O’Meara said. “And on the back side he hit some quality shots when he needed to. My hat’s off to him. He hung in there, had the two‑shot lead, didn't get flustered. We were tied for the lead once or twice and then he pulled away at the end.”
Pre-championship hype focused on Inverness’ inward nine, which featured six of the eight toughest scoring holes, including the 14th (most difficult), 13th (second) and 16th (third). Browne made his hay on the nine-hole stretch, playing them in 8 under for the championship.
“I knew if I was in the lead or somewhere near the lead on the back nine that there was going to be all kinds of stuff happening,” he said. “It's just too hard a nine holes of golf. I just did the very best that I could. I hit as many functional shots to stay in it, not lose my patience and not start doing stupid stuff.
“And then 16 is for me the hardest hole because the wind is coming in the wrong direction for the shot I like to play. I had to hit a quality tee shot, and it was the only really good tee shot I hit all day until that point, and then I hit another good one on 17.”
For the first three days, Inverness course conditions were benign and receptive to low scoring, the smallish greens having been softened by early-round rains. A day after a record 33 players posted sub-par rounds on Saturday and the field stroke average was 70.383, Inverness had some bite with a final-round scoring average of 71.966.
Overall, Inverness played to a stroke average of 73.212. In the 2003 U.S. Senior Open when Bruce Lietzke won with a 7-under score, the course played to a 76.336 stroke average.
By Sunday, though, the field had done its damage. And the champion was Browne.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on USGA websites.