Round One at the US Senior Open
By Stephanie Wei under US Senior Open

For those of you who snickered when I said I was going to the Senior Open, I’m happy to report that Thursday was actually rather riveting. No, it’s not Tiger and Phil doing what they do (or used to do), but Fred Couples and Tom Watson aren’t so bad. In fact, they’ve had a few top-tens in some recent majors. But I’m most impressed by the crowds at Sahalee for the first round. It’s been nine years since I left the Seattle area for the east coast, but I used to always rave about the sports fans. On Thursday I remembered the reason. People came out in hordes to watch a bunch of senior citizens hit a golf ball!

Of course our hometown hero Freddie is a big draw, but even after he had long left the grounds, the crowds were massive and grew as the afternoon progressed. I was blown away. I’ll bet at least $100 that Thursday’s attendance breaks some sort of record in the history of first rounds at the Senior Open. It’s gotta rank in the top-five. I mean, there were way more people than there were at the third round of the AT&T National. The picture above is of the gallery on the 17th hole, the eighth hole played by Mark Calcavechhia, Corey Pavin and Bernhard Langer. The grandstands are full! They also were packed on the 18th hole.

And I didn’t hear a single person screech “get in the hole.” Fans cheered and yelled words of encouragement, but they were considerate enough to avoid those awful, exasperating four words.

Stat of the day? Round 1 scoring average was 76.697. Ouchie.

As I wrote earlier, Calc and Langer noted the tough pin placements. I took a few pictures because I thought they looked terrifying and wanted affirmation that I wasn’t hallucinating. Also, see here for the first round pin sheet. (By the way, in my opinion, the greens are tougher than they appear. There’s much more break than it looks — at least to my eye when I last played.Then again, I can’t read greens anymore.)

Here’s the pin on the 16th:

And the par 3 17th:

Speaking of which, 16, 17 and 18 are brilliant finishing holes. The par 3 17th is downhill and 201 yards on the card, but the tees will be moved up on some days. It’s a really beautiful yet intimidating shot off the tee to a relatively shallow green sloping back to front (as they all do at Sahalee) with bunkers guarding the left, the right and the back, and water in front.

Everyone talks about how tough it is off the tee — or as Calc said, “If you get your tee ball out of position, you’re pretty much screwed.” — which I agree with, but I find the approach shots to be much more intimidating visually. Every green is bordered by bunkers or some kind of hazard, and the tall fir trees make the landing space look even more narrow.

Anyway, I found it interesting to contrast Calc’s game with Pavin’s or even Langer’s. Pavin hit not-very-impressive-looking low draws off the tee (which is good because Sahalee plays to a draw if memory serves me correctly — most holes are dogleg rights so you get a better angle). Meanwhile, Calc slapped up extremely high fades about 20-30 yards further. Then Langer’s ball flight was somewhere in the middle, but around the same distance as Calc.

But Calc couldn’t keep it in the fairway. He was a victim of those pesky tree branches several times.

Finally, the shots of the day go to Langer on number two, which is perhaps the only birdie hole (if there is one). From the middle of the fairway, he had a mid-iron into the green on his second shot. He pulled it into the trees. And here’s where he ended up.

There’s a pond guarding the front-right of the green and a bunker to the left, so there’s like a five yard landing strip for him to aim for. Langer was around 30-40 yards out with an awkward and narrow opening to the green. Just looking at the shot stressed me out. But he hit a fantastic punch-out to the front fringe. Then he was left with a double-breaking (maybe even triple) forty-footer up the hill. He drained it. He looked back at the crowd while he smiled and held a fist-pump for a few seconds to relish the moment.

Tomorrow I plan on walking with Watson, Freddie and Eduardo Romero for as many holes as possible (read: until I get bored with watching the same group; blame it on ADD).

These old guys are good!