OMAHA, Neb. – For once, there was near unanimous appreciation for the course setup of Omaha Country Club among contestants of the U.S. Senior Open Saturday afternoon, as the 64 players who made the cut took advantage of continuing soft greens and more accessible hole locations, plus a few other favorable factors.
Saturday is “moving day” in golf, but typically the move does not equate to dramatically lower scores in a USGA championship. But on Saturday, 27 players broke par, including 65-year-old Larry Nelson and 63-year-old Tom Kite, who were paired together and shot 68 and 69, respectively. Gil Morgan, 66, also submitted a 68. Another eight players shot par.
Corey Pavin and Kenny Perry led the assault with 6-under 64s.
Notably absent from the mix, however, were Michael Allen and Rocco Mediate, who played in the final pairing. Each man shot 72.
Still, everyone broke 80.
What's going on here?
"Maybe they used bigger holes, I don't know, because I actually made some putts," Steve Pate said after a ho-hum 67.
"I think the greens are a little quicker. I think everybody was struggling with how slow the greens were," said Tom Pernice Jr., who carded a fine 65. "Everybody was struggling getting the ball to the hole. Plus, the wind is the same direction it has been for three days now, and I think that helps a little bit."
Ah, local knowledge. That always helps.
While the fact that there are fewer players on the weekend typically skews the field scoring average lower, the improvement in overall performance Saturday was striking, with the contestants combining for a 70.344 average – including a par-breaking 34.969 on the outward nine. That compares to 74.053 on Friday and 73.987 on Thursday.
Saturday also was the first day that birdies (208) outnumbered bogeys (198).
"I don't think it's a secret," said straight-hitting Fred Funk, "that if you keep it in the fairways, you're going to be able to score a little."
That's golf. And that's especially U.S. Open golf.
Homecoming for Porter-King
Mary Bea Porter-King was introducing herself to Omaha Country Club assistant professional Tim McAndrew earlier this week when an old memory was rekindled.
“Didn’t you play in the Trans-Mississippi [Women’s Amateur] here in 1972?” asked McAndrew.
Porter-King was a little startled by McAndrew’s recollection.
Indeed, Porter-King did compete in the 1972 event at Omaha Country Club, site of the 2013 U.S. Senior Open. In fact, Porter-King, who served on the USGA Executive Committee from 2001-2006 and continues to work at various championships as a volunteer Rules official, spent a couple of summers in Omaha when her family relocated from Southern California in the late 1960s.
Porter-King never attended high school or college in Nebraska, but returned there in the summer and had success in local golf tournaments. She won the Omaha city championship three times (1967, 1968 and 1970) and was a multi-sport standout at Arizona State in the pre-Title IX era, where she helped the Sun Devils capture the AIAW College Softball World Series in Omaha in 1971. Porter-King also competed in volleyball, basketball, and of course, golf. The NCAA didn’t begin sanctioning women’s sports until 1982.
“I have fond memories of living here and spending my summers here,” said Porter-King, who now resides in Hawaii. “I loved the people here.”
Porter-King has recognized some friendly faces this week, but has yet to track down former Omaha Country Club head professional Bob Popp or Happy Hollow head pro John Frillman, both of whom she befriended during her amateur days. At the 1972 Trans-Mississippi, Porter-King lost, 1 down, to Arizona State teammate Cathy Mant, who, like Porter-King, later became a USGA volunteer with the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship Committee.
When Porter-King returned to Omaha for the College Softball World Series, the team stayed in the home of Millard High principal Don Stroh. Funding was significantly less for women’s sports than it is today, so the ASU team brought sleeping bags and slept in Stroh’s basement.
After college, Porter-King joined the LPGA Tour and moved to Arizona. She later moved to Kauai, where she has resided the past 24 years.
In Hawaii, Porter-King started the Hawaii State Junior Golf Association, which has produced the likes of USGA champions Michelle Wie (2003 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links), Kimberly Kim (2006 U.S. Women’s Amateur) and Kyung Kim (2012 WAPL) as well as 2006 U.S. Open qualifier Tadd Fujikawa and 2010 Curtis Cup member Stephanie Kono.
Her stewardship led to Porter-King receiving the 2011 First Lady of Golf award by The PGA of America.
“There’s a pretty amazing list of recipients,” she said. “[Former USGA President] Judy Bell is on it. There are a lot of my idols in golf. It’s recognition that what I’m doing is right. It’s nice to be honored by your peers.”
This week, Porter-King has enjoyed her Omaha homecoming, where a couple of relatives still reside.
“One thing I noticed out here is the course is immaculate,” she said Saturday after serving as a walking Rules official for the Gene Sauers/Tom Pernice Jr. pairing. “Nobody throws their trash down. They’re not yelling, ‘You da man,’ [and] all the silly things that happen. People [in Omaha] are polite and courteous.”
Big Day for Chevron’s Eagles for Education
USGA partner Chevron got into the Senior Open spirit in Omaha and announced an increased donation level for the Eagles for Education program. The initiative helps fund golf-related STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) enriched educational programs by awarding money for every eagle, double eagle or hole-in-one made during the USGA’s three Open championships (U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Senior Open).
Prior to Saturday’s third round, Chevron increased the donation amounts to $15,000 for each eagle and $30,000 for each double eagle or hole-in-one (up from $5,000 and $10,000, respectively, for the first two rounds). With Saturday’s favorable scoring conditions, nine eagles were made for a contribution of $135,000, bringing Chevron’s total 2013 contribution to $450,000.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA, while Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.