Lake Orion, Mich. – Peter Jacobsen was in Tom Kite’s first-round U.S. Senior Open grouping on Thursday, but in presence only.
“I felt like the Washington Generals playing the Harlem Globetrotters,” Jacobsen said. “I was his towel boy.”
Kite opened this 33rd Senior Open at Indianwood Golf & Country Club with a USGA Open championship record 7-under-par 28 en route to a 5-under 65 that was the best of the morning groupings.
“If you play well, there are some opportunities out there,” Kite said. “But I certainly didn't see any 28s or anything like that. That front nine was a pretty incredible nine holes of golf.”
More like historic.
The 28 is one stroke better than the previous record of 29 recorded four times – by Neal Lancaster twice (1995, U.S. Open, Shinnecock Hills Golf Club; 1996, U.S. Open, Oakland Hills Country Club), by Vijay Singh (2003, U.S. Open, Olympia Fields Country Club), and by defending Senior Open champion Olin Browne, on the second nine of his third round en route to victory last year at Inverness Club.
Kite’s opening nine included five birdies and an eagle – a 155-yard, 8-iron approach to a blind hole location on the 434-yard, par-4 fourth hole. His five birdie putts were between 12 and 18 feet, and four of the putts came from ideal positions on the green – below the hole.
Kite, 62, quickly took his place among the field on the more difficult back nine, recording seven straight pars before a double bogey on the 194-yard, par-3 17th hole. He also made an up-and-down par from about 40 feet on the 18th hole.
“I thought there would be some 65s, 66s, 67s shot this week,” said Kite, the 1992 U.S. Open champion who is seeking his first senior version in his 13 starts. “It's going to be difficult to do it four days in a row. This golf course has enough bite in it that it's not going to let the same person get it every day, for sure.”
Kite’s 65 led 10 under-par rounds from the morning groupings, and was just one stroke better than Lance Ten Broeck, who is making his first U.S. Senior Open appearance. Tom Pernice Jr. shot a 3-under 67, while Mark Calcavecchia and Damon Green were at 2-under 68.
Jacobsen, the 2004 U.S. Senior Open champion who shot an even-par 70, watched as Kite hit range balls prior to a ninth-place finish at last week’s Champions Tour event, the Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach. Jacobsen liked what he saw then and again today, but was equally impressed by Kite’s putting.
“Tom putted as well with the long putter today as I've seen him in five or six years he's used that putter,” said Jacobsen of Kite’s 25-putt round. “He was confident. He stepped up to every putt and he was very assertive. He had great speed.
“The two‑putt he had on 18 was amazing. He had to go over one of those muffins and knocked it down about 4 feet and confidently knocked it in.”
Kite, who only had one top-10 Champions Tour finish prior to last week at Pebble Beach, said his swing had been out of sorts this season, but has progressed of late.
“I'm not sure it's back where it totally needs to be yet, but it's moving in the right direction,” he said.
If it gets much better, he may threaten his new record.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on USGA websites.