» No. 1: Omaha Country Club is the center of attention. But a few prominent characters in the Senior Open aren't wasting their chance to visit Nebraska's more secluded (and more famous) courses.
Tom Lehman spent Monday at OCC practicing. Tuesday, after putting and chipping in the morning, he took a private plane to Valentine and spent that afternoon and evening at Prairie Club, where he designed the Dunes Course. While his peers were roasting in 100-degree heat index, he enjoyed the low humidity and calm conditions. He was back at OCC by noon Wednesday.
“It was an absolutely spectacular day,” Lehman said. “It's one of my favorite places on earth. I just love it up there. I'd like to go there once a month if I could. I just don't get that chance.”
The NBC guys are saving their getaway for after the Open. Sunday night, a crew of about six, which includes Gary Koch, Mark Rolfing and Dan Hicks, will board a plane bound for North Platte. They'll spend Monday and Tuesday at Sand Hills, then drive to Denver and board a plane for Lake Tahoe, where they'll broadcast the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship.
While his colleagues are itching to swing the sticks in paradise, Koch, who shot 72 on OCC's hills Saturday, isn't sure he's ready to play all day Monday and Tuesday.
Good news, Gary. Sand Hills has carts.
» No. 2: After 30 years of professional golf, Steve Elkington has played with just about everybody in his age group. Friends and foes.
But on Friday night, the USGA released Saturday tee times and Elkington found his name and tweeted this: “My time in Omaha just got better... Tom Watson at 11.50 tomorrow... #boom”
Elk typically started conversations. On No. 3 tee, they talked about Watson's busy July schedule — he's playing the British Open next week, followed by the Senior Open Championship the following week in England. On No. 16, they talked about Pittsburgh's Fox Chapel, a course with 18 memorable holes, according to Watson. No. 8, he said, is “the best hole in all of golf.”
Not a bad way to spend four hours.
“When you see your name paired with him, it's gonna be a great day,” said Elkington, who doubled 18 and shot 71. “I enjoyed it.”
» No. 3: Elkington is a fan favorite at OCC, partly because he praised Omaha on the “Jim Rome Show” earlier this week. After Saturday's round, he called the Omaha crowds “enormous.”
“I'm so surprised there hasn't been more golf here, because it seems like they know everything about golf.”
» No. 4: As the crow flies, it's half a mile from the clubhouse. And that's without the hills. But do yourself a favor if you're attending the Open today.
Go check out the fourth hole.
OCC is filled with very good ones. Nos. 5, 7, 12 and 13 are among my favorites. But No. 4 stands alone.
Most par 4s at OCC go over a valley, then back up a hill. The fourth plays through a valley. Framed by mature oaks and hillsides, it's one of the most natural holes you'll see anywhere. And because there's higher ground all around, it's a perfect place to watch shots.
Lehman made double bogey at No. 4 Friday, then bogeyed it Saturday. Yet when I asked him to pick a favorite hole at OCC, he chose the fourth.
“It just has a nice feel to it. ... I think it's a really good green for the shot you have to hit.”
The fourth leads players into perhaps the best part of the property, especially for spectators. Nos. 5 and 7 are excellent par 3s, and No. 6 is an eagle possibility.
Those four holes are close enough that you can bounce quickly from one to the next. And because they're so far from the clubhouse, you're not fighting as many fans for viewpoints.
» No. 5: Kenny Perry and Corey Pavin both shot 64 Saturday. But look at the contrast in driving distance.
Perry leads the field this week at 299 yards per drive. Pavin is 62nd — third to last among those who made the cut — at 244.3 yards.
How is it possible then that Perry and Pavin have hit the same number of greens — 38 of 54? As early-round playing partner David Ladd put it, Pavin is “a magician.”
» No. 6: A U.S. Open 59? In hindsight, Perry considered it. He shot 64 and left several opportunities on the course.
He missed birdie putts inside 10 feet at the fourth, fifth, 13th, 14th and 15th holes.
“I mean, it was incredible,” Perry said.
» No. 7: Johnny Miller, the most famous analyst in golf, is prone to hyperbole from time to time. But his comment on Michael Allen's play through two rounds raised my eyebrows. Allen's 10-under 130, Miller said, was amazing.
“If you put the big boys from the regular tour out here, 130 would still be in the lead, from the same tees.”
|See an interactive map with multiple aerial views of Omaha Country Club and its surrounding areas.|
I have an idea: Let's do this again next week with the under-50 guys.
» No. 8: NBC's Hicks and Steve Sands were chatting on the air late Saturday afternoon about Omaha's sports fanaticism. Husker football, the College World Series and the Olympic Swim Trials, where Hicks will be the play-by-play voice again in 2016.
“There is a medium-rare ribeye in your future, Dan,” Sands said.
» No. 9: Back to Koch. What's the biggest difference, I asked him, between seeing a tournament on TV versus being on the course?
Green slopes and elevation changes, Koch said.
“It's a two-dimensional medium and you really need three dimensions.”
NBC works hard to show terrain changes on TV, Koch said. The network puts cameras on the sides of the green rather than just in the towers. It uses handheld cameras as much as possible.
But at OCC, like Augusta National, it's still hard to show the extent of elevation change. You can put a graphic on the screen that shows an arrow dropping 40 feet. But “the reality is,” Koch said, “40 feet is like a four-story building.”
» No. 10: Don't adjust your TV. Koch really is playing a yellow golf ball. It's easier on the eyes, he says.
Three or four years ago, Srixon came out with a yellow ball and sent Koch a few sleeves.
Koch's initial reaction: “Come on, yellow ball. What is this?”
Then he tried them.
“I actually saw drives land for the first time in about five years,” Koch said. “My eyes are not as good as they used to be, and a white ball, it would go out there and I'd kind of lose it.
“But the yellow one, the first time I hit it, I was like, man, I saw that land and I can see it roll.”
Of course, it's not all positive, Koch says. The bad shots are easier to see, too.
» No. 11: The OCC fairways haven't been as fast or firm as players expected. But they're sufficiently annoying to Mark O'Meara.
“I'm not a huge fan, I got to be honest, of fairways that have a lot of slope to where, if you hit it in the middle of the fairway, it ends up in the middle of the rough,” O'Meara said. “I can't buy into that, if you want to ask my personal opinion.”
» No. 12: Those slopes, especially on the short par 4s, are a recipe for divot problems. Don't be surprised if one of the leaders gets a bad break in a big moment.
Allen's ball rolled into a fairway pothole on No. 9 Saturday — he managed par. Fred Funk worried about the 17th.
“Everybody is in that little feeder area, and there's a lot of divots.”
» No. 13: The back nine features a few monster par 4s, a couple of downhill par 3s, a lone par 5. But the two holes that might change the outcome of the Open, Kenny Perry said, are 13 and 17, the driveable par 4s.
While most of the field lays up with irons, Perry has opted for the aggressive approach this week. Driver. He's made four birdies, a par and a bogey on 13 and 17.
Saturday he drove it over 13 green and failed to get up and down. At 17, he drove within 20 yards of the green and chipped to gimme range.
“I'd love to get it in the fairway (with driver), but if it gets in the rough, I feel like I can hit that 100-yard sand wedge shot and still get it on with the greens as soft as they are. If they were very firm and fast, I'd be in trouble.”
|COURSE GUIDE: U.S. SENIOR OPEN|
|See hole illustrations, insight from course pros, photos and video from every hole and more in our Senior Open course guide.|
Thirteen and 17 were the easiest par 4s on the course Saturday, allowing 36 birdies against 15 bogeys. Duffy Waldorf had the only eagle, driving it to 15 feet at No. 13 and draining the putt.
» No. 14: The old guys have no fear. That's Corey Pavin's assessment after 3½ years on the Champions Tour. Pavin said until he won last year in Florida, he felt he had a better chance of winning on the PGA Tour.
Why? The leader rarely plays poorly on Sunday.
“Most of the guys have won a lot of tournaments. So you don't see a lot of backing up on Sunday, at least not in the regular events,” Pavin said. “So it makes it very difficult to win out here.”
If Pavin is going to win only his third pro tournament since 1996, he's going to need a little backing up from Allen.
» No. 15: You don't see this very often. Major champions Lehman and O'Meara, who played together Thursday and Friday, have shot the exact same score each day: 67 Thursday, 71 Friday, 70 Saturday. They're paired again Sunday, teeing off at 11:55 a.m.
If you're looking for a good pairing to follow earlier Sunday, try Tom Kite and Jay Haas at 9:35. Watson will be right behind them at 9:45, playing with Jeff Freeman.
It'll be a new face for Watson. After parring 15 Saturday, the legend walked up the hill and saw a group on 16 tee: Perry and somebody he didn't know. “Who's this Freeman guy?” he asked Elkington.
“It's Robin Freeman's brother,” Elk replied.
Robin, the more accomplished Freeman and a longtime PGA tour player, isn't in the field this week.
» No. 16: Watson and Elkington watched Perry and Freeman hit from 16 tee, then the four players crossed paths.
Perry looked at Watson's white polo shirt, soaked through with sweat, and said, “You need a shower.”
Watson didn't argue.
» No. 17: It wasn't the last interaction between those two groups.
Freeman was standing over a birdie putt on 17 green when he heard a ball bouncing up to the front edge of the green.
It was Elkington's tee shot on the 299-yard par-4.
Freeman walked over to the ball, pulled back his putter and — in mock disgust — acted like he was going to smack the ball back down the fairway.
» No. 18: Back tee? At 18? Fred Funk didn't like it one bit.
The finishing hole, playing into the wind all week, was long enough from 430 yards. Saturday the USGA used the 456-yard tee.
After Funk hit his drive, he wasn't sure he had made the fairway. He told a USGA official, “This is stupid.”
After a little back-and-forth, Funk said, “You know we're old guys.” And the official responded, “Yeah, but you guys are really good.”
“Yeah, but we're really old,” Funk said.
Moments later, Funk rolled in a long birdie putt to shoot 67.
He had one more comment for the official: “You're forgiven.”