OMAHA, Neb. – They could have shared war stories and a few secrets. Put together three winning Ryder Cup captains and there’s bound to be some banter mixed in with a bit of national pride and personal ambition.
But when Tom Watson, Bernhard Langer and Colin Montgomerie, all three of them Hall of Fame golfers, traversed Omaha Country Club together in the first round of the 34th U.S. Senior Open, there was only a smattering of chatter and nothing very revealing when remarks were offered.
Granted, they are competing in a major championship, and the hilly course demanded supreme concentration and expenditure of energy. But, as Langer noted, not everyone in the group had the Ryder Cup in his rearview mirror.
“We weren’t about to give away any of our secrets,” Langer said with a sly grin.
Watson, who was the winning U.S. Ryder Cup captain in 1993, was tapped last December to reassume the mantle for the 2014 matches in Scotland. And whatever secrets Langer and Montgomerie might have – they were winning captains for Europe in 2006 and 2010, respectively – Watson, the oldest of the three men at age 63 and owner of the most major titles, undoubtedly has more.
And he still has game, too. The 1982 U.S. Open champion bogeyed the last hole but still managed an even-par 70. Langer, who won the 2010 U.S. Senior Open, had a 68 while Montgomerie carded a 69 in his Senior Open debut.
“Amazing. Good luck to him. Fantastic effort,” Montgomerie, 50, gushed about Watson, a Kansas native. “Good home support for him. I think he’s quite close. I think Kansas is the next state down. Flatter, I believe, in Kansas. So we should have played there (smirk). One bogey, one birdie today. Good golf … 16 pars for nearly 64 years old. He’s a great competitor and he remains that way.”
Watson, for his part, didn’t feel like a great competitor. His vaunted iron game was off. “I’m going to go out and try to find it right now,” he said, intending to work on the practice range. “I have a couple of ideas. Today was not good, but I’m not far away, either.”
Monty didn’t particularly like the way he struck the ball, either, but he was saved by 27 putts. “I’m encouraged by the fact that you can score 69 and play indifferently tee‑to‑green. So when I get that ironed out, because that's usually my strength, to be honest … when I get that ironed out, then I’ll have 40 putts. It’s a bloody silly game at the best of times, isn’t it? But it’s great.”
Langer, 55, a native of Germany who lives in Florida, started slowly, but he birdied three of his last six holes to come in one behind the leaders. “I played very solid,” he said.
The company he kept had something to do with that. The trio easily garnered the largest galleries of the morning wave.
”I think it’s terrific, you know, outpouring of people here,” Langer noted. “The fairways were lined everywhere. The grandstands are full. Fantastic turnout. It’s a lot of fun to play in front of that many people.”
Montgomerie, like many players, is surprised by the dramatic elevation changes at Omaha Country Club. He also was surprised by the competitiveness of the Champions Tour. The U.S. Senior Open is his second event, following the Constellation Senior Players two weeks ago.
“It was good to play with Tom Watson and Bernhard Langer,” said Colin Montgomerie, recently inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. “Super to play with them and watch them go around their business.”
And it was business.
“It’s amazing, isn’t it? You chitchat prior to the round and after the round. It’s amazing out on the course how competitive it really is, very much so. There's not much, ‘How's the family.’ It's game on, you know?”
“We were out there conducting business, but we still had a few conversations out there today,” Watson said. “It's not unusual to talk a little bit about some other things, but usually it's related to the golf course or tournament, something like that. Doesn’t stray too far from that in that group. Now, if it was [Lee] Trevino, it would be something different. I miss him. I wish he was here.”
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.