Toledo, Ohio – Tom Kite had no trouble sleeping Monday on his flight back to the U.S. from Walton On The Hill, England, after finishing tied for 49th place at the Senior British Open at Walton Heath Golf Club.
I’m a world-class sleeper. Sleeping I can do; I’m good at that, Kite, the 1992 U.S. Open champion, said while taking a break from hitting balls on the driving range Tuesday afternoon at Inverness Club. I feel ready to go.
Perhaps Kite slept so well because of how he feels about returning to Inverness for the 32nd U.S. Senior Open, which begins Thursday.
Although his record at the Donald Ross-designed gem isn’t the most stellar in the field – not compared to Hale Irwin, Bob Tway or Bruce Lietzke, all of whom have won majors here – the feisty and fit Texan enjoys its old-school challenges, including its winding fairways and tiny, tilted greens.
In the four major championships that Kite has participated in at Inverness, his best finish is joint 12th place in the 2003 U.S. Senior Open. He finished tied for 26th and tied for 56th at the 1986 and 1993 PGA Championships, respectively. In the 1979 U.S. Open, he missed the cut.
It’s just a terrific golf course. It’s fun to play, said Kite, 61, who three times has finished as high as third in the U.S. Senior Open. You’ve got to really play here. You’ve got to do a lot of good things. When you’ve got small greens like this, you’re not going to be able to hit them from the rough. So you have to drive it well. And then you also have to drive the ball an adequate length to be able to hit shorter irons to hold those greens. Obviously, you’re going to miss some, so you have to chip and hit good bunker shots and be smart.
There’s no premium on one thing, Kite added. It’s not like some golf courses where you just try to bomb it off the tee and putt it good. This course asks you to really play well in all areas.
Winner of 20 PGA Tour titles and another 10 on the Champions Tour, Kite is still motivated by competition, and few events get him more focused and keyed up than the U.S. Senior Open.
This is a big one. I’d very much like to add a Senior Open to the U.S. Open I’ve won, he said.
Kite has struggled for much of the season, posting just one top-10 finish and four in the top-25, but he has renewed vigor after tinkering with his swing and seeing better shots come off the clubface, even if his scores are lagging behind the progress.
If I play well, I expect to have a good week, and I’m really starting to play well, Kite said. I’ve been really inconsistent this year, but the last few weeks I’ve shown some signs. Now I just have to keep from stepping on myself. I keep thinking one of these weeks it’s going to pop through.
It wouldn’t be out of the question to see Kite break through on the 7,143-yard, par-71 Inverness layout that features the second-smallest set of greens that the Champions Tour visits. The undulating surfaces average about 5,500 square feet. The smallest are at Pebble Beach, where Kite won his U.S. Open and where he finished tied for 23rd last month at the Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach.
Not that you’d ever turn away a U.S. Open victory, but winning mine at Pebble Beach is awfully special. It’s pretty cool, he said. Winning here would be right up there almost with Pebble. It’s that good. I do think it sets up well for me, but I have to play some good golf. We’ll see if I can put it together.