I spent some time at the beginning of my second day at the US Senior Open watching the practice areas. The driving range runs parallel to the first hole, though it’s probably a hundred yards away, separated by nets and trees.
There are grandstands behind the driving range, and several television stands with signs for local stations—what they intend to film there is beyond me. I can’t imagine that driving ranges make good television—even on a local level.
Local television reporters, I found are good for a chuckle. There was a trio of young (early 20s) enthusiastic video reporters interviewing Bruce Lietzke; I doubt any of them are old enough to remember his last PGA Tour win (1994). The girl was so giddy, I half expected her to clap her hands and shout “Oh Goody!”
And later, there was the self-important local sportscaster who had an inverview area set up with USGA President Jim Hyler. He opened his interview with “How did you get into golf?” and moved on to the more probing “When you were a kid, did you expect to become USGA President?” and “What is the USGA, exactly?” He finished with “If there’s one thing you could say to the American public, what is it?”
If I were Jim Hyler, I would have tried to strangle myself right there with my tie. Local television sucks in every city.
But I digress. On the driving range, I was interested to see that very few of the pros were visibly working on anything. Only two that I saw had alignment tools: Hal Sutton and Bob Tway. Hal’s tool was a tee.
Instead, what they did was hit one shot after another, working their way through the bag. They’d meticulously place the next ball at the very edge of the previous divot, then swing away. They, without realigning, place another ball at the end of that divot and so on. Each had a nice, neat rectangle of dirt through the driving range grass. Each worked alone, or with his caddy.
This is in contrast to what I have observed at PGA Tour events, where the pros seem to have a bag full of training implements, and at least one teacher working with them. The regular Tour guys also would be very likely to have a few club manufacturer reps hovering nearby, just in case they’re needed.
The only manufacturer’s rep I saw Tuesday was a very busy Nike guy. He was making notes on what Bob Tway had in his bag at one point, and also later walked the course with a group that included two Nike players.
My guess is that the Senior tour players just aren’t quite as fanatical about practice and working their games. There’s also less money in it for the reps and top teachers.
The short game practice area is adjacent to the ninth fairway, on the exterior of the course, near Dorr Road. You can hear cars go by from the green.
This is actually quite an effective practice area for the Donald Ross course. THe green is elevated (as are many on the course), and flanked left and right by bunkers—again, like many of the holes. It was quite busy throughout, with the players rotating through the bunkers. A squad of younger teenagers cleared the balls off the green during slower moments.
While watching all of this, a thought occurred to me: whether on the range, or at the short game area, they’re all practicing with the same balls (presumably Titleist Pro v1s). It seems to fly in the face of all the marketing the ball manufacturers do to tell players how each ball plays differently. It seems to me that if they really were that different, I’d want to practice with my own ball because it would lob differently than another’s.
Lob is the proper word for the way these guys fling the balls up out of the sand, out of the tall grass or off the short. They just flip it up with complete confidence; it soars high and land softly.
Most of the players today seemed quite relaxed with the fans. There were lots of autograph seekers and players hung around while their partners were hitting to sign hats, flags and books. Tommy Armour (above) was very popular and accomodating, as was John Cook and John Jenkins.
One group that had a big following included Fuzzy Zoeller and Ben Crenshaw (above; don’t worry about my being assaulted by an overzealous caddy , I took this photo from a fairway over, through a huge telephoto lens and then used software to zoom in. It still looks good, though.)
Zoeller was what you’d expect: wisecracking his way through the round, taunting his fellow competitors and generally playing the crowd.
He also had a great line: after reaching the ninth tee, he said “I’m done after this; I’ve become a nine hole player.”
That’s not a good sign, but he was true to his word. I saw him a little later on the putting green, having left the back nine to his partners.
A couple of course notes. On the par five eighth, the volunteer ball spotter said that no one in two days had reached the green in two; the closest, in fact that anyone had come was the first bunker, which I had previously measured at about 129 to the green. It’s a monstrous hole, especially with the last third being sharply uphill.
The eighteenth green (above) was giving some players fits. At one point, Peter Jacobson said “I don’t believe it,” when he failed to hole one putt right after another.
More tomorrow, including the story of my trip to Tony Packos and the Toledo Mudhens’s game.