U.S. SENIOR OPEN
Roberts Continues to Play to His Strengths
August 13, 2016 | Columbus, Ohio
By Dave Shedloski
Loren Roberts is in unfamiliar territory but in a familiar position heading into the final round of the 37th U.S. Senior Open.
At 61 years old, Roberts doesn’t get in contention often, but he trails Miguel Angel Jimenez by only four strokes and sits tied for third with Ian Woosnam and Billy Mayfair through 54 holes at 1-over-par 211. The easy-going California native won the last of his 13 senior titles in 2012, and he hasn’t been this close to the lead in the U.S. Senior Open since he was in second place after three rounds in 2007 at Whistling Straits in Haven, Wis.
“It's been a while,” Roberts agreed, smiling.
It’s not that he won’t be nervous. But he’s in the gravy period of a career that also saw him win eight times on the PGA Tour. After posting an even-par 70 at Scioto Country Club Saturday morning, Roberts isn’t sweating the big stuff. And winning the U.S. Senior Open, indeed, would be a crowning achievement to a career full of, well, overachievement, if you will.
“Well, OK, I'm 61 now,” he began. “I will tell you I'm having a lot more fun playing golf now than I used to because it's like, ‘Hey, I just like being out and around the guys. I like trying to hit shots and play, and I'm having fun. So I feel like I'm a whole lot looser, you know?
“Obviously, we still want to win, and I'll try everything I can to win, but I enjoy just … I enjoy being around golf.”
About that winning part that Roberts mentioned. It will be a tall order – but not anything he isn’t used to. Not only is he the oldest player on the leader board, he also is the shortest hitter among the contenders on a course that could play longer after some heavy rain finally found its way to Scioto.
That’s the familiar part to him – winning with an arsenal that always appeared to be too meager, even if it was tactically sound and precise.
“On the regular tour, if you looked at the first 175 guys in driving distance, I was probably ranked 176th,” said Roberts, who lives in Germantown, Tenn., with a knowing smile. “But like I tell kids who I work with at the First Tee, you have to learn to play around your strengths. Know what you do well and play to that.”
In Roberts’ case, that was putting. And it still is. His peers call him “Boss of the Moss” for his ability to read and navigate greens.
“I didn’t feel like I had to hit it to 10 feet all the time to win,” he explained. “I just want to be on the green in regulation and give myself 20 feet, 30 feet. Now you’re in my kitchen. I’m comfortable with that. That mindset allowed me to win more than anybody thought I could.”
At Scioto, Roberts ranks 61st out of 62 players remaining in the field in driving distance, averaging 258.4 yards on measured holes. By comparison, Jimenez, 52, who hasn’t finished outside the top 4 since January, is seventh in driving distance at 301.6. It’s a big reason he leads the field in greens in regulation, finding 40 of 54.
Guess who is tied for second in that category with 37? Yes, Roberts. Of course, neither man is near the top in putting. A greater number of greens hit usually leads to a greater number of total putts, so that statistic can be a bit misleading. Roberts still converts plenty of times, like the 18-footer for par on the last that let him exit Scioto on a confident note.
“I can still get it in the hole pretty well,” he said. “Maybe I’m not as good as I once was, but it’s not like I putt badly.”
Ten years ago at Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson, Kan., Roberts used his magical touch to fire a 10-under-par 62, the lowest round in USGA Open championship history. He doesn’t have that gear anymore – and Scioto isn’t the type of course that would allow anyone to rev up to such a level.
But there’s obviously scoring ability to mine. Roberts, who doesn’t hit many practice balls after back and shoulder problems developed five years ago, shot the third-lowest score of the day Saturday, one of just nine at par or better.
When he tees off at 12:19 p.m. EDT Sunday, Roberts will play to his strengths, grind to shoot a low number, and see where he ends up. Yes, he wants to win. But, frankly, he’s been winning for a long time, scoreboards aside.
“I like to tell everybody who asks me about it, ‘Hey, I haven’t had a real job in 36 years. Why would I complain about anything?’”