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Tricky greens focus of US Senior Open

Forget the heat, don’t worry about the altitude. It’s The Broadmoor’s notoriously tricky greens that will undoubtedly befuddle the field at the 29th U.S. Senior Open.

Coloradoan Hale Irwin said first there’s the influence of the mountains, pointing out that Cheyenne Mountain is so close by.

“And that always was intriguing when we did play down here years ago, how the Texas and Florida guys would come up and they’d have no clue how to putt these greens,” he said.

“Well, I welcome myself to that club now because it’s been a long time since we’ve played a course that has greens, A, this size; B, with this much contour in them; and C, with such an overpowering influence off the mountain.”

Other courses have all of these elements but not to this degree. Add in altitude that affects approach shots and golfers’ entire games are affected by the unpredictable greens.

And that’s before the USGA’s often unfriendly pin placement is even taken into account.

“What we’ve seen with the practice rounds are the hole locations they will not use because of how much break there is,” Irwin said. “So we’re trying to putt to where we anticipate other holes to be, but you never know. That’s the mystery of the USGA.”

The par-70, 7,254-yard East Course is the longest for a U.S. Senior Open, surpassing the 7,117-yard Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, site of the 2004 championship.

“The tee-to-green game is pretty straightforward,” Irwin said. “While not overbearing, it’s not easy because of the severity of the greens, because if you miss the fairway, the odds of you hitting the green or hitting in a position where you have any kind of a putt whatsoever are greatly diminished.

“So, it sort of backs itself up. You look at hole location where you’re going to have to be on that green where you have any kind of a putt,” he added. “And then it starts putting pressure on the second shot, on the drive to perform. And that’s the way it should be.”

Putts tend to break away from the west-to-east slope of the mountain. R.W. Eaks, a native of Colorado Springs, said it helps to locate the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun on the mountain and try to putt toward it.

“Well, you got the shrine up there, OK, and you kind of have to triangulate where the shrine is and where you’re putting. I know it sounds funny, but it really works,” Eaks said. “It just takes time to get used to it, but shoot, it took me a while to try and figure that out.

“I don’t know if I’m going to make all my putts or not, but at least I know what direction they’re going.”

Irwin said the influence of Cheyenne Mountain also speeds up the putts.

“Some of the putts here will be faster in mid-roll than they are when you first hit it, so that becomes almost something that gets out of your control; hence, putting toward the mountain is going to be what we all try to do,” he said.

At 72, Dale Douglass of Castle Rock, Colo., is the elder statesman of the field at the 29th U.S. Senior Open. He won the tournament in 1986 in his first try just four months after turning 50, the minimum age for the senior circuit.

“Well, you might think you might know more at 72 than at 50. But the fact is that you’ve forgotten more. And that evens it out, so you don’t have an advantage of wisdom,” Douglass said.

“It doesn’t bother me. I’m very fortunate to be healthy and able to play and able to walk this golf course at 72.”

When he was introduced as the oldest golfer in the field, however, Douglass dropped his head.

“I was hoping Gary Player is here because he’s older than I am, see, but when he doesn’t show, it’s me,” said Douglass, who is four months younger than Player.

Douglass said it gets tougher and tougher every year, making the Champions Tour a “young” man’s game.

“There’s a rejuvenation out here because you’re not intimidated when you’re 50,” he said. “You’re not intimidated by any of the other players because you hit it further and straighter and you putt better.”

Douglass, who first played The Broadmoor at the 1959 U.S. Amateur championship that launched Jack Nicklaus’s career, is playing in his 23rd Senior Open, two shy of Arnold Palmer’s mark.

“There’s some of his other records that I would have preferred to have challenged,” Douglass said.

R.W. Eaks won the Champions Tour 3M Championship in Blaine, Minn., earlier this month with the help of a golf cart, which the USGA doesn’t allow in the U.S. Senior Open.

Both of Eaks’ knees need replacement. He couldn’t walk up stairs in December, and twice this year has withdrawn from tournaments because he could barely get out of a cart.

The 56-year-old Eaks said he’s not anticipating any problems, however, walking the 7,254-yard East Course, the longest ever for a Senior Open.

He’s been wearing FDA-approved electrical stimulation braces on his legs while he sleeps.

“Just in the last few days I’ve noticed a big difference,” Eaks said.


July 31, 2008

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