U.S. SENIOR OPEN
Round 1: Five Things to Know June 27, 2018 | COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. By Dave Shedloski

The gorgeous setting of The Broadmoor's East Course is a draw for fans and a challenge for players. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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Senior golf doesn’t get much more challenging than this week’s 39th U.S. Senior Open at The Broadmoor, which is hosting its eighth USGA championship. The East Course, with nine holes designed by Donald Ross and nine by Robert Trent Jones Sr., is a par-70 layout of 7,264 yards that sits on the southern edge of the Rocky Mountains at an elevation of 6,300 feet, so it will play shorter in the thin air. One of the challenges of playing at altitude is estimating how much farther the golf ball will travel, and it’s different for every player in the field based on a series of factors.

That thin mountain air is bound to have another impact on the field, and that relates to fitness. Fred Funk, the 2009 U.S. Senior Open champion, remembers playing in The International, the now-defunct PGA Tour event in nearby Castle Rock, Colo., and slowing down his pre-shot routine on occasion just to catch his breath. That was when he was a much younger man. Combine this with the fact that most senior players seldom walk 18 holes four straight days, and this championship could be decided by wobbly legs.

“The course is quite difficult to walk. A lot of up and down and we're huffing and puffing walking to certain tee shots,” said 2010 champion Bernhard Langer, who is among the fittest players in the field. So good luck to everyone else.

The competition begins at 7 a.m. MDT (9 a.m. EDT). Here are five things to know as the ultimate test in golf for guys over 50 gets underway:

Short Grass: As in, who can find it off the tee. Fairway widths on the East Course are, on average, 28-29 yards wide, very much in line with the architecture of The Broadmoor and the USGA’s traditional setup metrics. With the rough less graduated, any shot significantly off line will probably bring severe disappointment to the player who ends up in it.

Three-putting: The greens here at the Broadmoor have plenty of slope, which in and of itself is an issue. But reading them has proven to be a conundrum. Local legend has it that the distant Will Rogers Shrine is a useful landmark. Any putt toward it is uphill. But the mountain effect still makes for a lot of guessing. “I could play here for a week or two and not figure out these greens,” said 2016 champion Gene Sauers. Defending champion Kenny Perry went a few steps further. “I think I could probably play out here 10 years straight and not figure out how to putt these greens.” OK, then.

Fred Couples: The guy barely plays anymore because of his chronically bad back, but he continues to show the copious amounts of natural talent he possesses when he does compete. The 1992 Masters champion has made just two PGA Tour Champions starts this year and has finished T-6 and T-3. He made the cut in the Masters this year at age 58 despite not picking up a club for three months – and while wearing a back brace. In his four U.S. Senior Open starts, he has never ended up worse than T-14. “I pick it up [again] pretty fast. I do know my game,” he explained. If he puts up a good number on Thursday and gets through the week health-wise, there’s no reason to think he can’t be in contention again.

The Afternoon Wave: It’s going to be hot the next few days. The fry-an-egg-on-the-hood-of-a-car hot in the mid-90s, near record highs. The altitude already is a challenge, as will be the walking – which we’ve already pointed out. But players with afternoon tee times will have the added issue of a heat index that will certainly compound the physical challenge of playing 18 holes of golf. Survival of the fittest … and most hydrated.

John Smoltz: Well, naturally, we’re going to follow the exploits of the Hall of Fame pitcher, who said qualifying for the championship is “probably the No. 1 thing that I’ve ever accomplished.” He’ll draw a large gallery when he goes off the 10th tee at 7:21 a.m. MDT, and just about every player in the field will be curious to see how the former Major League Baseball star will fare.

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

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