Lake Orion, Mich. – No one here preparing for the U.S. Senior Open is saying that the Old Course at Indianwood Golf & Country Club is the most difficult layout that they’ve encountered on the Champions Tour. But it’s definitely the most difficult they’ll face this year.
That’s the way it should be, said 1982 U.S. Open champion Tom Watson. That’s what you’d expect in a USGA championship.
The 33rd U.S. Senior Open begins at 7 a.m. Thursday in this suburb north of Detroit, and players 50 and over are bracing for an examination that is both complete and complex.
Indianwood’s Old Course, designed by Wilfrid E. Reid in 1925 with an assist from William Connellan, features small, sloping greens and narrow, rolling fairways lined by thick rough and tall fescue that infuse it with a Scottish links personality. It measures 6,891 yards, a decent length for a par-70 layout.
But it’s not length that will be the key measure of a man’s capabilities this week on the sun-dried green canvas. It’s everything else, both tangible and intangible, that will be paramount.
Don't let that fool you, said Jeff Hall, managing director of rules and competitions for the USGA, of Indianwood’s relatively short profile. It's going to be a solid test of golf. Very small greens. Fairways are pretty tight. Indianwood has never been about the overall length of the golf course. It's going to be about producing quality golf shots throughout the 72 holes that we'll play.
This is some golf course, said two-time U.S. Senior Open champion Allen Doyle. This is a toughie … very tough. Everybody better tighten their belts.
While Indianwood will test players throughout their 14 clubs, Watson, a three-time runner-up in this championship, said one area of the game will likely make or break the contenders.
Getting right to the point about this golf course, if you don't drive the ball well, you have no chance. Absolutely no chance. None. Zero, he said emphatically. The rough is so deep, so penal, and the fairways are pretty narrow. If you don't drive the ball – listen, 70 percent of the fairways, which is really driving the ball well. If you don't drive it 70 percent of the fairways, you're not going to win.
You know this is a major by the height of the rough, said Loren Roberts, who holds the U.S. Senior Open 18-hole scoring record with a 62 in the 2006 championship at Prairie Dunes G.C. in Hutchinson, Kan. It’s almost hack-out kind of rough, which means it’s a penalty to be in it, just like a usual U.S. Open setup. I think it’s great. It should separate the field.
Defending champion Olin Browne said that one of the most interesting facets of the layout is that The hard holes are easy when you play them well, and the easy holes are hard when you mess them up.
Winner last year at another classic course, Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, just a few hours south of Indianwood, Browne agreed with Watson and Roberts that the USGA setup formula is largely void of secrets or surprises.
It's been my experience that getting prepared for the Senior Open is probably the easiest tournament to prepare for, because the formula is the same, and it's the U.S. Open, too, Browne said. Hit the ball where you're aiming it, make a couple of putts and get out of Dodge without making too many mistakes. That's a little tongue in cheek, but the bottom line is the USGA sets up the courses to challenge us to the max of our abilities, and my experience has been in the three Senior Opens that I've played that that has been the case. The scoring has been a little bit more volatile than you might imagine in years past, but still great golf is required.
So is great thinking. And great patience, too, perhaps the virtual 15th club in the bag at any USGA championship.
In these kinds of tournaments, you know you're going to be frustrated a few times, said Michael Allen, who last month competed in, and made the cut in, the U.S. Open at The Olympic Club, where he’s a longtime member. You're going to hit some shots that don't turn out as well. You've got to have a lot of patience out here. You've got to go through it and kind of stay in the ballgame. You're going to have bad stretches and good stretches. You've got to get through those bad stretches and try to get through with the least amount of damage. And hopefully, you have two or three good runs out here where you can make up some ground.
I played a few weeks ago at Congressional [site of the 2011 U.S. Open and host of the AT&T National on the PGA Tour], and I can tell you that it was a U.S. Open-type test, said Tom Pernice, who bounces between the regular and senior circuits. This place here isn’t as long, but it has the same kind of overall toughness to it. You better be thinking clearly and ready to hit good golf shots. Simple as that.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.