OMAHA, Neb. – Consistency is what wins USGA championships, goes the conventional wisdom.
John Riegger has a chance to disprove that axiom.
“It was a Jekyll-and-Hyde day,” the Champions Tour rookie said Friday at breezy Omaha Country Club, where he shot a highly unconventional 1-under-par 69 in the second round of the U.S. Senior Open and made his first cut in a USGA championship.
Jekyll made five birdies in a sterling front-nine 30. Hyde three-putted the first two holes on the back, hit two shots a total of 25 feet on another hole, and limped home in 39.
Still, it added up to a sub-par score, a 1-over 141 aggregate and a decent chance to excel in just his second start on the Champions Tour after turning 50 on June 13. “If someone had told me at the start of the day that I’d shoot one under, I’d have stayed in bed and taken it,” he said with a shrug.
A long-hitting journeyman from Metropolis, Ill., in the southern part of the state, Riegger isn’t embarking on the second stage of his career, like many of his peers are, but rather is finally getting his into gear.
He did win twice on the developmental Web.com Tour, in 2000, which proved he had the chops to compete. But bad shoulders that required surgery prevented him from ever making headway toward consistent regular status on the PGA Tour.
“I always knew I could play,” Riegger said.
He’s already proven that in qualifiers. He earned the fifth and final exemption to the Champions Tour at the National Qualifying Tournament by making birdie on the second playoff hole. To earn a spot in this week’s Senior Open, Riegger finished as the medalist at the sectional qualifier in West Lafayette, Ind.
He’s been mostly cooling his heels at home waiting for his 50th birthday, though he did play in four Web.com Tour events, with his best finish a tie for 22nd against guys half his age.
After converting just one birdie in the opening round, Riegger found the hole early and often to begin Round 2, thanks to utilizing his driver and hitting approaches close to the hole. None of his first three birdies at the first, fourth and fifth holes was no longer than 6 feet. He two-putted from 20 feet at the par-5 sixth and stole a shot at the demanding par-4 eighth, thanks to a 15-foot birdie that broke more than three feet.
“Then the adventure began,” Riegger said, alluding to the three straight bogeys to start the inward nine, the first two resulting from three-putts. At 15 he endured a true adventure when he pushed his drive into the right rough behind some trees and hit his next two shots 10 feet each. A wedge up and a 15-footer kept the damage to a bogey.
A birdie at 14 offset another bogey at 17 and gave him a card with six birdies, five bogeys and seven pars.
“That’s not the usual formula for playing a U.S. Open, I know, but it was a lot of fun out there,” Riegger said. “It’s a hard golf course. It’s tough. But I’m just happy to be playing, and I’m playing pretty well. I’ve been hitting it good, and I can use my length to my advantage. I just need to be a little more consistent.”
Indeed. So goes the conventional wisdom.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.