U.S. SENIOR OPEN
Notebook: Senior Open Forecast - Firm And Fast July 27, 2010 By David Shefter and Paul Ramsdell

Jeff Hall, the USGA's managing director of Rules and Competitions, said Sahalee Country Club is in ideal shape for the start of the 2010 U.S. Senior Open on Thursday. (John Mummert/USGA) 

Sammamish, Wash. – With an ideal weather forecast for championship golf – sunny, dry and comfortable – USGA officials said Wednesday during a press conference that they are pleased with the conditions for the 2010 U.S. Senior Open at Sahalee Country Club.

Sometimes Mother Nature can throw a wrench into the best of planning, but that likely won’t be the case when the 50-and-over set begins the 72-hole competition on Thursday.

We’re pleased with the firmness, said Jeff Hall, the USGA’s managing director for Rules and Competitions and the man in charge of the U.S. Senior Open setup. The last four or five days we’ve been drying the golf course down. Sprinklers were not turned on [Tuesday] night. There was some ‘corrective watering’ that was applied to several greens that were on the firmer end of the spectrum and some of the longer holes – [No.] 6 as an example – where we want that [green] to be slightly more receptive than the average because of the type of shot they’re playing.

The USGA has a device called TruFirm that measures green firmness. The data can then be interpreted by Hall, Championship Committee Chairman Thomas O’Toole Jr., superintendent Rich Taylor and the USGA Green Section agronomists on-site to determine whether additional water should be applied to the putting surfaces.

It’s not a perfect science, but it gives officials much better information than what was available even five or six years ago.

Hall and O’Toole also monitor shots during practice rounds to see how balls are reacting on greens, fairways and roughs.

We’re going to stay on top of this, said Hall. We utilized the wonderful weather we had the last few days and that helped us dry down and Rich Taylor was able to look at the forecast and say, ‘Now is when we have to move to dry it down.’ And it’s in our hands now. It appears Mother Nature is not going to participate in this process. We will be mindful of keeping it right where it is.

Getting The Open Call

Friends who have been in the same situation had told Gary Lindeblad to relax. As one of the first alternates from sectional qualifying, he was sure to get a call from the USGA that a spot would open up for him in the U.S. Senior Open.

Lindeblad, though, has made a habit of staying in the moment.

I didn’t even consider it. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, said the 59-year-old who has been the head pro at Indian Canyon in Spokane for a quarter-century.

For more than a decade, it was tough for Lindeblad to get his hopes up about much of anything, because doctors had told him his years were numbered because of Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia, a rare and often fatal form of lymphoma.

He was diagnosed with the disease in 1998, and told he probably had at least three years to live, but five years would be a stretch.

It’s one that doesn’t go away, Lindeblad said.

But it has. A year ago, Lindeblad was declared to be cancer-free.

They can’t find it. My oncologist, I saw him last week, and he conceded that they don’t even believe it. It’s a full-blown miracle, he said.

You’ve got to admire Gary, said Jim Pike, the host professional at Sahalee. I’m newsContenting for Gary. He’s a first-class golf professional, Hall of Fame in our Section, so it’s a thrill to see him out here playing.

Beware Of The Bear

As USGA officials and agronomists, along with Sahalee superintendent Rich Taylor, were preparing the course last

Bear On Sahalee
This young cub is not among the Senior Open competitors this week at Sahalee C.C. (Derf Soller/USGA Green Section)
week, they stumbled upon a black bear cub bounding around the golf course.

week, they stumbled upon a black bear cub bounding around the golf course.

 

After the initial concern about the mother’s whereabouts didn’t produce any immediate threats, Jeff Hall, the USGA’s managing director for Rules and Competitions, made sure to get a photo of the cub. He then sent it to NBC Sports golf analyst Dottie Pepper, along with the message, The bears are waiting for you.

In a famous video clip from the 2008 U.S. Senior Open, a bear at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo., was caught on tape seemingly chasing the on-course commentator.

Jet-Lagged

Bernhard Langer, who won last week’s Senior British Open at Carnoustie, was not pleased to be playing consecutive 50-and-over major championships, especially considering the eight-hour time difference.

Langer flew some 20 hours from Scotland to Seattle for this week’s U.S. Senior Open.

They wouldn’t consider doing it to the young guys, but they are doing it to us, said Langer. It makes no sense.

All of the four regular majors – the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship – are spaced at least one month apart. The LPGA Tour also doesn’t play back-to-back majors, although the LPGA Championship and U.S. Women’s Open were separated by a fortnight.

But the Champions Tour has majors in consecutive weeks.

It’s a terrible schedule, said Langer. I think it’s terrible that we 50-year-olds have to play back-to-back majors. I don’t understand why we would have to go through that. I think something needs to be done in the future to separate these events.

Tom Lehman, meanwhile, is in the midst of playing five consecutive weeks between regular PGA Tour and Champions Tour events.

You know, I I felt really tired starting last week, said the 1996 British Open champion and 2010 Senior PGA Championship winner. But I feel pretty good now. I always have found it easier traveling this direction (east to west) versus the other. I’ve woken up at 1 [a.m.] the last two mornings and I’m having a hard time sleeping beyond that, but I feel pretty good.

Suited To His Game

Corey Pavin has always relied on guile over gauge, precision over power. Look up the PGA Tour stats and his name frequently falls near the bottom in driving distance, but when it comes to shaping shots, being imaginative around the greens and getting the ball in the hole, the 1995 U.S. Open champion rates near the top. Some might consider the diminutive 50-year-old from Dallas a bit of a magician.

Which is why Sahalee Country Club and its dense tree-lined fairways could be the ideal venue for Pavin to claim a second USGA title.

You can work it, said Pavin of the Ted Robinson-designed layout. I worked it a little bit [on Tuesday], but there’s not much room obviously, side-to-side as some other places.

Pavin has spent much of his practice-round sessions working on hitting the ball low to ensure he finds the fairway. Because of the tight space, a high ball flight might not be the proper trajectory to succeed at Sahalee.

I’m not putting the ball up in the air a lot, said Pavin, coming off a runner-up finish at last week’s British Senior Open Championship at Carnoustie, where he finished a stroke behind Langer. But that’s what … a U.S. Open course can be sometimes. For me, when I want to put the ball in play I try to hit it low and there are a lot of 3-woods out here for me. I can get a 3-wood out here and hit it a reasonable distance. It’s not going to rain in the forecast, so these fairways can get firm and if they do get firmer you can hit them but you can let the ball run and get out there further.

So this is the kind of setup I enjoy when the ground is firm, especially off the tee. I like that a lot.

Tree Ball

Sahalee’s main characteristic is the heavily tree-lined fairways. And these trees look more like Manhattan skyscrapers.

The great thing about this course is you have lots of trees to shoot at, said Tom Watson with a laugh. You’ve got trees on the left, on the right. You have trees in the right center of the fairways, and the left center of the fairways. You’ve got them through doglegs. It’s not like St. Andrews where you have nothing to aim at.

With fairways averaging 26 yards in width, they might look more like Fifth Avenue than the Firth of Forth.

You’re playing right down a bowling alley, said Watson. And if you can drive the ball in those uprights between those … 100-foot pine trees, if you can do that consistently, you’re going to be ready. And that’s going to take a lot of people out [of contention].

Staying Sharp

Jim Pike, the head pro at Sahalee, has been understandably busy all week in preparation for hosting the championship, but there’s another intriguing thought lurking in his mind – the fact that he might be called upon to tee it up Thursday morning.

Pike was the second alternate in the qualifier held in Washington state earlier this summer. Generally, the chances for second alternates to make the field are slim, but on the other hand he’ll be readily available should there be a last-minute withdrawal.

I’ve been trying to practice mostly my short game, he said. To be honest with you, I can’t get on the golf course as an alternate so I’ve been up practicing at the nursery green, just waiting for the call.

Local Knowledge

Jeff Hart out of Solano Beach, Calif., is going to have plenty of local knowledge on hand this week at Sahalee. His caddie is Mike Jonson, who has won four men’s club championships at Sahalee (including 2009) and three senior club championships. 

Hadden Withdraws

Amateur William Hadden of Manchester Village, Vt., got into the U.S. Senior Open field Monday when Tom Pernice Jr. withdrew due to a scheduling conflict with the PGA Tour's Greenbrier event. Two days later, Hadden made his exit without ever hitting an official shot. Due to a shoulder injury, Hadden was forced to withdraw from the Senior Open, making way for another alternate, amateur John Vaccaro of Albany, N.Y.

Vaccaro, who will play in his first Senior Open, quickly made a plane reservation and was due to arrive in Seattle from a connection in Chicago at 10:45 p.m. PDT Wednesday night. He won't get much sleep as he will tee off at 8:45 a.m. on the 10th hole with Bruce Vaughan and James Mason. 

David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. Paul Ramsdell is a Seattle-based freelance writer who is contributing articles this week for the U.S. Senior Open website.