U.S. SENIOR OPEN
Austin Eager for Return to Scioto's Straight and Narrow Test August 8, 2016 | COLUMBUS, OHIO By Dave Shedloski

Woody Austin, making his third appearance in the U.S. Senior Open, loves the classic architecture that Scioto presents. (USGA/Joel Kowsky)

Woody Austin will tell you straight away he isn’t fond of putting contests. But put him on a golf course where ball striking matters, and he’ll be first in line to sign up.

That’s why he can’t wait to return to Scioto Country Club, where the 37th U.S. Senior Open will be played from Aug. 11-14. The par-70 layout in suburban Columbus, Ohio, the boyhood golfing home of Jack Nicklaus, has hosted a number of significant events in its 100-year history, including the 1986 U.S. Senior Open. Originally designed by Donald Ross, it's a layout that demands tee-to-green precision with its fairways lined by thick rough and well-placed bunkers.

“I love that golf course. I haven’t always played it that well, but that’s OK because I respect it, and I can accept a bad score if I hit a bad shot,” Austin said Sunday after finishing tied for seventh in the 3M Championship near Minneapolis, his best finish on the PGA Tour Champions since his back-to-back wins in April. “I think it’s a great golf course, and the question now is, do I have the game to play it well?”

Austin, 52, of Derby, Kansas, will begin to answer that question on Thursday morning at 8:22, when he starts first-round play on the 10th tee in a grouping with Jesper Parnevik and Paul Goydos. He made his U.S. Senior Open debut two years ago, tying for third at Oak Tree National Golf Club in Edmond, Okla. Last year a final-round 76 at Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento, Calif., left him in a tie for 26th.

Austin has some history at Scioto. He competed in U.S. Open sectional qualifying at Scioto in 2007 – when he shot 73-69 to secure a spot in that year’s U.S. Open at Oakmont – and again in 2014, when he fell short of qualifying for the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. He knows what to expect from the course setup, and he hopes it’s difficult. Really difficult.

“The harder the better,” said Austin, who has three wins on the PGA Tour Champions, all this year, after winning four times on the PGA Tour. “If you ask me, if you hit it in the rough, it should be a penalty. If I hit it in there, then I’m willing to take my medicine. But I just want it to be that you have to hit it straight. You have to think about what you’re doing. That’s how I learned to play the game.”

A native of Tampa, Fla., Austin first honed his game at Babe Zaharias Golf Course, a public layout. There was no driving range, which Austin claims was a plus.

“I never hit balls on the range. I just went and played 27, 36, 45 holes in a day, and I learned to hit shots as opposed to just swinging a club,” he said. “I learned that you better have control of your golf ball because the ball wasn’t very good back then. You really had to understand what you wanted to do.”

Since his wins back in April, Austin hasn’t been playing as well. He wasn’t impressed by his performance in Minnesota. “You just know when you’re not quite there,” he said. “I need to find my form. I hope this is the week for it.”

He expects to arrive at Scioto late Monday afternoon and hoped to get in nine holes of practice. Hey, no beating balls on the range for this guy.

“I can't wait to get there,” said Austin. “I’m looking forward to it. Scioto is a classic course. It’s straightforward, and you know what you have to do. I can play a course like that every week.”

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.