When Mark Calcavecchia dragged himself off the ninth green (his final hole) at Sahalee in the first round of the US Senior Open, he didn’t look like a man who had just shot one-under 69 to grab a tie for fourth. Mind you, he was one of two players to post a score under par in the afternoon — the other was one of his playing partners, Bernhard Langer, who won last week’s British Senior Open.
“Me and Corey [Pavin] were saying earlier, they must have thought the top 100 in the world were here, not 156 old guys,” Calc said. “Seriously, I think it was the hardest set of pin placements I’ve seen in years…it’s tough, if you get your tee ball out of position, you’re pretty much screwed.”
When I walked out to the 16th green to wait for Calc, Langer and Pavin’s group, one of the first things I noticed was the menacing pin, tucked in the right back corner just four paces from the edge. That’s pretty brutal, I thought. But it’s a major and it’s the USGA — I wouldn’t expect any less.
I asked, “Were there any pin placements in particular [that were tough]?”
Calc paused for a second and said, “Let me start from the back. 9, 8, 5, 3, 1 you know, 17, 16, 15, 11, 12, 13.” I started laughing sympathetically. He looked straight at me and deadpanned, “I’m telling ya, there were at least 13 tough ones, it was unreal.”
No, it’s not Calc just grumbling — It’s true. I’ve played Sahalee probably half a dozen times at least and there are holes where if you simply hit it to the wrong side of the fairway, you have no shot because a branch from a towering evergreen is hanging in your line of sight. Compound the already tough layout with USGA major championship setup conditions and it becomes an extremely difficult test of golf.
Even borderline unfair?
“Couple of [the holes] are borderline unfair, yeah, like the one I just talked about on No. 8,” Langer replied. (On the eighth Langer hit a perfect 3-wood off the tee, but it took an unfortunate hop straight into the bunker.)
“I played the course eight years ago when it was soft. It’s a great golf course when it’s soft because you can attack certain hole locations but when it’s this firm you just can’t go for the pins half the time or maybe three quarters of the time so you’ve just got to play defensive golf.”
In other words, drown those greens every night.
By the time I watched the threesome hit their approach shots on 18 (their ninth hole), I realized just how difficult the course was set up and just how tough the conditions were. I kept thinking, wow, if they had a “normal” US Open here, it would quite possibly be like Nightmare on Elm Street, Golfer’s Edition.
While Sahalee will continue to be a grueling test, it’s a fair (enough) one. Just look at the names on the leaderboard — Tom Lehman, Michael Allen, Mark Calcavecchia, Bernhard Langer, Tom Watson, Fred Couples and Jay Haas are all in the top-10.
“I would anticipate the pins being easier tomorrow, seriously, it’s impossible for them to get any tougher,” said Calc.
Don’t underestimate the USGA.
[Photo by John Mummert/USGA]