Not many folks are having a better time in Omaha this week than Gary Koch.
Over the past two days, the 60-year-old from Tampa, Fla., has figured out a way to collect two paychecks at one event — the U.S. Senior Open.
Koch is an NBC golf analyst and was scheduled to work during the network’s coverage Saturday and Sunday.
Instead, he’ll be playing.
By shooting 2-under 68 on Friday, Koch moved into a tie for eighth at 1 under overall to easily make the cut. And time on the course won’t cost Koch dollars out of his regular NBC paycheck.
“Fortunately, I have a per-event pay scale,” he said, smiling. “Even if I work just a few minutes, that will be included as an event. Hopefully my tee time will be late enough that I just get up there to the very end of the telecast.”
Even after walking the hills at Omaha Country Club, Koch said he won’t mind hiking up the TV tower ladder.
“I had probably the best of all worlds going in,” he said. “If I didn’t make it, I was going to be sitting in an air-conditioned tower over the weekend. If I did make it, I get to play some more. The expectations weren’t too great.”
Actually, expectations might have been non-existent.
Koch’s TV work — especially being in the 18th-hole tower for the Senior Open — almost always prevents him from entering this event. But with Johnny Miller assigned to the main broadcast tower this weekend, Koch got permission from his NBC bosses to play.
He had only one previous Senior Open appearance (2003) and had played in only one Champions Tour event this season (finishing tied for 46th) before coming to Omaha.
But that doesn’t mean Koch hasn’t had a club in his hand. He had to go through qualifying to earn a spot, and he played four rounds last week on a buddy trip to Ireland.
“I just haven’t played competitively, and I can promise you it’s a big difference,” he said. “The thing I knew going in I was going to have to fight was if I would get too anxious.”
Early in Thursday’s round, Koch said his nerves were evident. By Friday’s final 11 holes, though, he was rolling. Among the spectators were fellow NBC announcers Miller, Dan Hicks and Mark Rolfing.
“It was great to know they were out there rooting me on,” Koch said. “I know this is something I’m capable of doing. I just don’t know if I’m capable of doing it in this environment on this type of course.”
Winning the tournament might prove difficult with Michael Allen leading at 10 under. Koch played a practice round with Allen and noted the leader’s long drives and low ball flight as pluses for the week.
“I was thinking 8 under for 72 holes was probably going to be a pretty good score,” Koch said. “So the analyst in me isn’t very good because some guy is already 10 under.”