NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – A veteran of 110 major championships and 12 Ryder Cup Matches, Gary Van Sickle knows a thing or two about golf on its biggest stages.
But that’s as a Sports Illustrated writer. Playing in major championships is a little different.
And although Van Sickle, 60, of Wexford, Pa., is competing in his second U.S. Senior Amateur this week at Big Canyon Country Club, he admitted to some rookie mistakes prior to his opening stroke-play qualifying round on Saturday.
He left his distance-measuring device in his golf cart after Friday’s practice round. He hadn’t noticed it went missing until he registered for his cart Saturday morning. Then Van Sickle informed the attendant that he was starting on No. 1. The staff member corrected him, but by then, fellow competitor Randy Lewis, with whom he was sharing the cart, had already departed for the 10th tee.
At 8:18 a.m., seven minutes before his scheduled starting time, Van Sickle walked briskly to No. 10.
I get over there and I can’t stop sweating, said Van Sickle, who opened with two bogeys, but regained his composure to post a respectable 2-over 74. It’s a good score for a player of my ability. Honestly, the first two holes I was a little flustered. And it was hot and humid.
Van Sickle doesn’t travel the PGA Tour circuit as much anymore, leaving him more time at home to practice at Treesdale Golf & Country Club, an Arnold Palmer design north of Pittsburgh. But he also doesn’t play as much competitive golf as some of the competitors in this field. Nor does he play many setups as challenging as Big Canyon this week.
I thought 76 was a good score here, said Van Sickle, who wrote an entertaining column for Golf.com, which is owned by Sports Illustrated, about his first couple of days at the championship. In our practice round [on Thursday], we played 12 holes before anyone in our group made a birdie. You have to remember that three pars in a row here is like making a birdie.
You see these guys like Fred Couples who can make six birdies and an eagle at any time. At this level, it takes a lot more effort to stay patient because I know I’m not going to make six birdies. I just know how it is.
Goydos Alternately Regales, Reminds Players
Bob Costas was interviewing third-round leader Paul Goydos before the final round of the 2008 Players Championship and asked him how he slept. On my back, Goydos replied. His deadpan humor earned Goydos a weeklong spot on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive program when he was sidelined with an injury in 2012, and he provided listeners with alternately riotous and reflective observations as the guest speaker for Friday night’s Senior Amateur players’ dinner.
Goydos has won twice, posted 45 top-10 finishes and earned nearly $13 million in a PGA Tour career that spans more than 20 years. But he reminded the players that their opportunity at this week’s Senior Amateur at Big Canyon Country Club was rare.
I’ve played the PGA Tour for a long time and if someone asked me how many times I played in the Sony Open or at Bay Hill, I would say, maybe 10 or 15, said Goydos. But I can tell you for sure that I’ve played in two U.S. Amateur Public Links and 10 U.S. Opens. There are 156 players here this week, and they are playing in a national championship. You can’t overvalue that.
Goydos, who grew up in Long Beach, Calif., reached the Round of 16 in the 1986 U.S. Amateur Public Links and had his best U.S. Open finish in 1999 when he opened with a 67 at Pinehurst No. 2 and shot three consecutive 74s to tie for 12th place.
What’s great about USGA events is that, obviously they test your golf, but more importantly they test who you are, said Goydos. They are played in firm and fast conditions, and sometimes, seemingly unfair things happen… bad bounces, good shots that don’t work out. The U.S. Open is a battle of attrition, of who’s the strongest guy – that’s why [Jack] Nicklaus and [Ben] Hogan and [Tiger] Woods won a bunch of them. They’re the strongest players I’ve ever seen mentally.
Goydos thought back to a crucial moment in 1999.
I was playing pretty well in the final round, 1 under for the day after 11 holes, he said. I was within three shots of the lead. That’s when you’re supposed to stay in the present and just hit your tee shot, and I didn’t do that. Instead I started thinking, wow, I’m only three shots back. I proceeded to double-bogey the 12th and play the last six holes 5 over. I handled it well for 66 holes, but to win you need to handle it for 72.
Goydos, who turned 50 in June and has played in four Champions Tour events, mentioned a memorable brush he had with Arnold Palmer at a U.S. Open.
In 1994 at Oakmont, my first U.S. Open, I played a Monday practice round with Arnold in his final Open, said Goydos. There must have been 5,000 people following us that day, and the thing that stood out to me was this: I guarantee you that every one of those 5,000 people left the course that day and said, ‘Arnold looked me in the eye.’ No one could command a crowd and make people more comfortable than he did. That’s a pretty impressive thing.
Goydos, who is one of six players to shoot 59 on the PGA Tour, having done so in 2010 at the John Deere Classic, reminded the Senior Amateur competitors to enjoy the experience. This is as much fun as you’re going to have playing golf. This is where golf happens. It doesn’t happen on the PGA Tour – it happens at events like this, at clubs like this around the country.
Strong Seniors Start for Reifers
Randy Reifers, of Columbus, Ohio, birdied his first two holes on Saturday and finished with a 1-under 71, which puts him in good position to reach the match-play bracket with a solid round on Sunday.
Reifers was also buoyed by the recent news that his son, Kyle, has earned a PGA Tour card for the 2014-15 season by snagging the 25th and final spot available from the Web.com Tour money list.
I’m real proud of him, said Reifers, 67. He’s working hard – I think he’s going to be a late bloomer.
The younger Reifers is assured of playing on the Tour, but as the Web.com playoffs continue through next week, he is trying to improve his status his third PGA Tour stint since he graduated from Wake Forest in 2006. Reifers played on Tour in 2008 and 2012 but failed to retain his card both times.
He has a job next year, but he wants to get into the Fall Series, said Reifers, himself a member of both the DePauw University and Ohio State Golf halls of fame. Reifers played at DePauw with former vice president Dan Quayle and NBC/Golf Channel commentator Mark Rolfing. I firmly believe he has the tools to do well, but as I always tell him, it’s 90 percent mental and the rest is in your head.
Reifers thought Kyle might have a chance to be an outstanding player when he shot 69 and lost to his son, then age 14, by three strokes at the Country Club of Muirfield.
You can put him at the trough, but he has to drink it, said Reifers, who is proud to call himself his son’s first instructor. We never discussed him playing professionally until he was a junior in college. I thought it was more important that he get his degree. He worked hard in school and made the dean’s list six times.
Randy Reifers owns a record 10 victories in Ohio state competition, and was the low amateur in the 2006 U.S. Senior Open at Prairie Dunes. His best finish in the Senior Amateur is the match-play quarterfinals in 2005, and he was a member of the USGA’s Mid-Amateur Championship Committee for 13 years.
One of the senior Reifers’ favorite golf memories is attending the 2005 Walker Cup Match, where Kyle helped the USA regain the cup at Chicago Golf Club.
He had a really good amateur career, said Reifers. He was a two-time All-American, he won the Porter Cup, the Northeast Amateur… he knows what winning is.
That’s a result that both father and son are familiar with.
USGA Officials Change Roles
As Rick Woulfe was going through the registration line for this week’s U.S. Senior Amateur, he was approached by a member of the championship committee to explain the USGA’s pace-of-play policy. Woulfe, who is competing in his seventh Senior Amateur, had to chuckle.
He says, let’s talk about pace of play, said Woulfe. I told him I just came from doing this, so don’t waste your time with me.
Woulfe is a longtime member of the USGA’s Mid-Amateur Championship Committee who spent last week at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pa., for that championship. Woulfe, 64, of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and Mickey Jones, 66, of Odessa, Texas, are the two members from that committee who qualified for the Senior Amateur.
I was actually doing that at the Mid-Amateur, said Woulfe of advising contestants of the checkpoint policy.
Woulfe’s only issue on Saturday was his golf game. He struggled on his opening nine (6-over 42) – Big Canyon’s inward nine – but came back with an even-par 36 to shoot 78. Jones, competing in his third Senior Amateur, carded an 81.
I don’t really find it to be that difficult, said Woulfe of the quick turnaround. It was just a bad seven-hole stretch for me.
It’s great working the [championships]. I really enjoy it. If I can’t play it, I will work it.