Given his performance in the last two U.S. Senior Open Championships and relative anonymity in the U.S., Paul Wesselingh probably wouldn’t have been on any prognosticators’ short lists of contenders at Del Paso Country Club.
Wesselingh finished 65th in 2013 and missed the cut last year, shooting a combined 21 over par. He made the cut a month ago in the Senior PGA Championship at French Lick Resort, but a 9-over-par 81 in the final round put him at the bottom of the leader board at 18-over 306.
Despite those recent performances and Del Paso’s tough conditions, Wesselingh, 53, of Derby, England, shot 69-68 for a 3-under 137, and sits only two strokes out of the lead heading into the weekend.
There were no technical reasons offered for his hot start. For Wesselingh, it’s all in the head.
“State of mind, really. I've been aware that, for some reason, I've not been performing in the States – performing great in Europe, winning eight times. Coming over here, I felt, I suppose, when you stand on the practice range and you see Tom Watson and Freddie Couples, it gets a bit daunting, really,” said Wesselingh. “I have the help of a golf psychologist this year, who got me thinking positively. It worked because I made the cut at French Lick and have done well so far this week.
Even par through 14 holes in the first round, Wesselingh began his run toward the top of the leader board on the 604-yard, par-5 15th hole. After a driver and 3-wood into the wind, he was left with 109 yards to the hole. He hit a perfect pitching wedge that released into the hole for the only eagle Del Paso surrendered on the day.
That bit of brilliance evened out Wesselingh’s lone regret on Friday: a double bogey on the par-4 16th, where his second shot found the water.
“I just got distracted at the top of my backswing on my second shot – 6-iron in, only 180 yards to the flag, nice lie. Just came out of it, caught a bit thin,” he said. “It was just lack of concentration, I suppose.”
Wesselingh rebounded with a birdie on the par-3 17th and shot even par on the inward nine, finishing with five birdies on the day. The birdie barrage could be attributed in part to having his youngest of three sons, Jake, 18, caddieing for him. Wesselingh’s 26 putts were the third-fewest of Round 2, and two fewer than his first round.
“He’s actually a very good green-reader,” said Wesselingh of Jake, a fan of the local NBA franchise. “His favorite basketball team is Sacramento. He's a great basketball player. So watch out, because he could be over in a couple years.”
An eight-time winner on the European Senior Tour, family has always come first for Wesselingh. He turned professional in 1985, but opted for the club professional route over Tour life to start a family with his wife, Tracy. The couple have twin boys, Ryan and Sean, who are two years older than Jake.
“Ryan caddied for me in French Lick. I just wanted to spend my time with my family and watch them grow up,” Wesselingh said. “I've got three wonderful boys. Now, it's my time. They're old enough. All I've got to do is win some money to pay for them.”
With 36 holes down and 36 more to go in the 36th U.S. Senior Open, he’s in good position to do just that.
Joey Flyntz is an associate writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.