Lake Orion, Mich. – Damon Green is a full-time caddie on the PGA Tour and a part-time player on the Champions Tour. His fellow senior competitors probably prefer it that way.
Green, 51, is back on the leaderboard at the U.S. Senior Open after shooting a 2-under-par 68 Thursday at Indianwood Golf & Country Club. The caddie for 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson, Green doesn't have many chances to compete, but he seems to make the most of them.
Last year at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, Green opened with a 4-under 67 and eventually finished tied for 13th in his U.S. Senior Open debut.
"I played really well last year. I think my length is an advantage on these courses," said Green, who lives in Kissimmee, Fla. "A lot of times I can hit a 2-iron. My 2-iron goes about what their drive does. I hit driver 30 or 40, 50 yards ahead of them if I hit it good. I've got shorter clubs into these holes, and I can hold it – if I'm in the fairway. I think that's a big advantage."
Green, whose only other start this year resulted in a 73rd-place finish at the Principal Charity Classic, said he didn't come into the championship feeling particularly confident, even though he had four solid days of practice at The Concession in Bradenton, Fla., where he played with 1993 PGA champion Paul Azinger. But he got a few pieces of swing advice from Peter Jacobsen and his instructor, Martin Miller. And Wednesday night Johnson phoned from Silvis, Ill., where he is playing the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic, in an effort to pump him up.
"He called me last night actually, Zach did, and had some words of wisdom," Green said. "I wasn't feeling very confident. I said, 'This course is so hard.' He says, 'You'll hit more fairways, and you'll hit more greens than you think you would. Just go out and have fun.'”
Johnson had a pretty good start at the tournament Steve Stricker has won the last three years in a row. He shot a 68, just like his caddie, though TPC Deere Run is a par-71 layout.
Another Caddie Joins The Mix
Lance Ten Broeck is in his 10th week on tour, so one would think his game should be finely tuned for this week's U.S. Senior Open. However, Ten Broeck is making only his second start in that stretch.
"The last nine weeks, I've caddied eight weeks, and I played in a tournament in Iowa on the Champions Tour the other week," said Ten Broeck, a longtime pro who has also caddied through the years for various players on the PGA and Champions tours, including Jesper Parnevik and Robert Allenby.
Ten Broeck, 56, is making his U.S. Senior Open debut – and his second Champions Tour start of 2012.
The result? Ten Broeck shot a 4-under-par 66 that was bettered only by Tom Kite's 65 that featured a USGA Open championship record 7-under 28 on the front nine.
"Played well all day," said Ten Broeck, who shot 69 and was medalist at the Paramus, N.J., sectional qualifier. "Hit my driver on the fairway for the most part. Putted just so‑so. Missed about a 4‑footer for my only bogey and I missed countless other putts.
"I mean, if you hit the ball on the fairway, the course was there to shoot a very low score."
He just did not expect to be one of those scores.
"I wouldn't think I would shoot this low, to be honest with you," he said. "So I'm happy."
Ten Broeck, whose best season in a brief PGA Tour career was in 1992 when he finished 122nd on the money list, believes his vast experiences as a caddie are negligible this week.
"It probably helps a little bit with your course management," he said. "You still have to execute. That's the bottom line."
Couples Salvages 72
Fred Couples struggled on the greens, with a sore right wrist, and with his chronically sore back Thursday in his second U.S. Senior Open start. Still, he managed to scratch out a 2-over-par 72, and he was somewhat satisfied that he didn't shoot himself out of the championship.
"Believe me, it probably could have been a lot worse," he said.
Couples, 52, has finished no worse than 12th this season on the Champions Tour in seven starts, but he hadn't picked up a golf club for more than a week after his back started acting up at the Senior Players Championship, where he tied for fourth. It was still bothering him at Indianwood, and it affected his putting the most. Consecutive three-putts at the 11th and 12th holes set the tone for the day.
"I just don't feel all that good, and it's hard to kind of get comfortable putting. And it showed," said Couples, who also has a wrist injury that he insisted doesn't affect his golf swing. "To be honest, from the middle of three fairways, I made bogeys from 145 yards with 8 irons, and that's really unacceptable. But other than that, I had good holes and bad holes. I just am a little sore and pretty rusty.
"You know, [it was] not very good," he added. "Absolutely beautiful day with some good scores, and mine wasn't one of them. But, you know, come out tomorrow and try and shoot a lot better."
Far From Watson’s Best
Tom Watson entered this week's U.S. Senior Open lamenting his poor iron play. Though he shot an even-par 70 in Thursday's opening round at Indianwood, he still wasn't very happy.
This was after hitting 13 of 18 greens in regulation. Hey, the guy has high standards.
"Not very good. Hit a good, solid iron at the 1st hole, and hit a good solid iron at the 17th hole, I believe. And that was about it," said Watson, 62, who hit 10 of 14 fairways. From the short grass, however, he seldom had a good birdie look.
"The flag positions were in tricky places," he said. "They seemed like they're always right up against the slope, and I have to say, I played somewhat of a sloppy round today. Hit just some very pedestrian shots that I guess I'm very happy with a 70. I mean, a 70's a good score out there."
Tough 3 Holes
Considerable discourse was given to the difficulty of the closing trio of holes in the days leading into the championship.
But subjective rhetoric was replaced by quantifiable proof on Thursday. The three holes, originally designed by Wilfrid E. Reid and William Connellan in the early 1920s, were a stern test on the tail end of the tougher of two nines.
Holes Nos. 16, 17 and 18 ranked as the second-, fourth- and eighth-toughest holes, respectively, based on scoring averages – more than a full stroke over their combined par of 11.
Jeff Hall, the USGA's managing director of rules and competitions and amateur status, said on Wednesday that a player who has a one-stroke lead heading to the 16th hole in the final round may win by shooting even par on the stretch.
"I think you're going to have to finish strong to have a chance," said Olin Browne, the reigning Senior Open champion. "You do have to do your work on 17 and 18."
The stretch features a pair of dogleg right par-4 holes (450 and 452 yards, respectively, on Thursday) sandwiched around a par 3 (194 yards).
At the 16th, several bunkers have been added to the inside corner of the dogleg, causing players to rethink shortening the angle. The green funnels to the middle and is well guarded on both sides by deep bunkers.
The 17th is a straightforward par 3 that has a bowl-shaped green, and the hole’s degree of difficulty will be determined by the hole location.
Case in point: In the opening round, the hole was cut 7 yards from the back and 5 yards from the left.
"It's probably the better part of valor to kind of just hit in the bowl and hopefully the pin will be there once or twice when you hit it there," said Michael Allen, the 2009 Senior PGA Championship winner. "Any of those pins on the left-hand side are extremely difficult to get to, especially on a left-to-right wind. Hopefully, I can make a few putts from the bowl, hit in the middle of the bowl and make it out of there."
Then there is the 18th, whose green measures 51 yards in depth and is about a half acre in size.
"I'm not sure how you would describe that green," said Tom Lehman, the 1996 British Open champion.
Hall describes it as mini-greens within a green; Peter Jacobsen describes the various mounds on the green as muffins. How about wavy?
"I see a lot of that kind of motion when I'm on my boat," Browne said.
Adding to the difficulty on both the 16th and 18th holes is a 3-inch-deep, 8-foot-wide graduated rough, which is also featured on the 476-yard, par-4 12th hole that was the course’s most difficult hole.
The 18th green tends to overshadow the whole of the hole.
Bernhard Langer, who won this title two years ago at Sahalee Country Club, considers the approach shot into the 18th green as critical as any on the course.
"Well, it's not easy because first of all, it's a very long second shot," he said. "[Tuesday] I hit hybrid in there and so it all depends where the wind is and how good your tee shot is. But with such a long club and you have like four or five or six of these mounds, if you pitch it into the mound, it will stop pretty quick. If you hit the downslope, it could run 25 yards.
"And that's why I took a little extra time to make sure I have the measurement to each of those mounds, and hopefully hit a good enough shot to control the distance so I don't have a 30-yard putt over two mounds, which could easily lead to a three-putt."
And could cost the leader the title on Sunday.