U.S. Senior Open rules official Mary Bea Porter-King’s life in sports has featured several chapters in Omaha.
Porter-King, who played the LPGA Tour for a quarter century, won three Omaha women’s golf titles while her parents lived here in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She played for Arizona State in the Women’s College World Series at Dill Field in 1971 and 1972, winning a title with the Sun Devils the second year. And she reached the quarterfinals of the Trans-Mississippi Women’s Amateur at Omaha Country Club in 1972.
She said her return to town is “kind of melancholy.”
“I really have fond memories of living here and spending summers here,” she said. “I’ve been looking for Mr. Popp and Mr. Frillman, hoping to say hi.”
Bob Popp and John Frillman were longtime club pros in Omaha, Popp at OCC and Frillman at Happy Hollow. Her parents built the Big T driving range that was on the southwest corner of 72nd and Q Streets in Ralston.
Porter-King received the PGA of America’s First Lady of Golf Award in 2011 and was inducted in 2001 into the ASU Sports Hall of Fame in four sports. She won one LPGA tournament. In 1988, during a qualifying event on tour, she performed CPR to save the life of a toddler who had fallen into a swimming pool at a house adjacent to the golf course.
After retiring from competitive golf, she’s championed junior golf in Hawaii. Michelle Wie was one of her four “kids” who played last week in the U.S. Women’s Open.
“I’ve been given more than my share from golf,” Porter-King said, “but I’ll never give back what it’s given me in all these years.”
A keepsake from Calcavecchia
Local high school basketball coach Terry Shelsta said Mark Calcavecchia was hitting a Ping G20 driver, loft of 9.5 degrees, for a while on Thursday.
Shelsta knows because he has the clubhead that’s attached to about 6 inches of a broken shaft and hopes to get Calc’s autograph on it.
Shelsta, a tournament volunteer who’s a forecaddie in the left rough on the 12th hole, said he retrieved the club after Calc chucked it into the creek. The Laurel, Neb., native made par from the rough that day.
A young Watson fan
Eleven-year-old Daniel Gutgesell was one lucky kid Saturday at the U.S. Senior Open.
Daniel, wearing a Titleist golf cap autographed by Tom Watson, was sitting just behind the packed first tee when he was approached by Watson shortly before the golfer teed off. The two chatted briefly before Watson had other important matters to address, such as belting his first drive of the day.
“He asked me what the best score I ever shot was,” Daniel said. “I told him it was 76, which I just shot yesterday.”
Watson also asked the youngster how to spell that tough last name, which drew a laugh from the crowd.
Daniel was at the tournament with his dad, Paul, and his 14-year-old brother, David. They made the trip from their home in Overland Park, Kan.
Watson, who is from Kansas City, signed Daniel’s cap at a junior clinic a couple of years ago, the boy said. “We’re cheering for him today.”
Big crowds lead to traffic delays
Fans parking at the North Omaha Airport and shuttling to the OCC on Saturday morning experienced some delays because of the traffic volume.
Traffic exiting Interstate 680 at 72nd Street was backed up considerably. Fans also had to be patient for the shuttles to return, but that congestion was mostly cleared by noon.
In fact, fans arriving at that time lauded the shuttles and the entire parking process the tournament has used for the tourney.
“It seems like it’s been a flawless setup,” said Kelly Melson of Kearney, Neb. “You don’t have very far to walk, and they drop you off right at the gate.”
Melson said she’d like to see another popular sporting event learn a lesson from the tourney’s traffic plan.
“I wish they could figure out a way to do this for Husker football games,” she said. “That would be awesome.”
Ex-UNO coach pumped about Irwin
Former University of Nebraska at Omaha football coach Sandy Buda, who is volunteering as a marshal at the tourney, said he was eager to watch Hale Irwin.
The two were on opposing collegiate football teams almost 50 years ago — Buda at Kansas and Irwin at Colorado.
“In 1965, I caught six passes against them and Hale was the guy who brought me down after three of the catches,” Buda said. “I received a concussion in the second half, so I don’t remember the half when I caught those passes.”
The Buffs won the game 21-14.
Sneaking a peek on the first tee
Some got creative this week finding a vantage point for the first tee, which was jammed with fans most every day.
Many were sitting in the large grandstand behind the tee. Others lined the left side of the tee box, but then there was the hardcore group of fans who sneaked into the flower bed on the right side of the tee and peeked through some foliage.
It was a little reminiscent of Arte Johnson peeking through the bushes on the 1960s “Laugh-In” television show before delivering the line “Verrrrry Interesting!”
Early holes open to attack
If spectators were looking for opportunities to clap, cheer and even occasionally roar during Saturday’s third round of the U.S. Senior Open, they headed for the first six holes of OCC, where players attacked two reachable par 5s — No. 2 and No. 6. No. 4 (a par 4) and No. 5 (a tricky par 3) also played easier Saturday than they had all week.
In all, 64 golfers were 44-under-par on those first six holes.
“Maybe they used bigger holes, I don’t know, because I actually made some putts,’ said Steve Pate, who played the first six holes in 4-under-par en route to a 3-under 67. “They must have been bigger. I really don’t know. There are a lot of holes out here you can take advantage of.”
“It was foot to the floor,” said Kenny Perry, who shot 64, which included a 4-under stretch on the first six holes.
Pate made a 45-foot chip for eagle on No. 2, a 546-yard, slightly uphill par 5. He birdied No. 1 and No. 6, which played downhill at 522 yards. That was just 21 yards longer than the 501-yard par-4 10th, which played as a more difficult hole. Tom Pernice Jr. — who shot 4 under on the first six holes en route to a 65 — said he hit driver off the tee at No. 6 and a 7-iron for his approach into a receptive green. Perry hit a 9-iron on No. 6 to one foot for a tap-in eagle.
“If you hit in the fairway (at 6), it becomes a par 69 course almost,” Pernice said. More than half the remaining field birdied or eagled the hole Saturday.
Another bonus was a manageable left-side pin placement at No. 5. That turned a hole that had been the eighth hardest at OCC into the fifth easiest on Saturday.
South African Chris Williams birdied the fifth hole — and the first four before it — for a scorching start. He said he’d never done that in competition.
“I just putted so well the first few holes, and the greens are running very nicely at that time of the morning,” Williams said.
It seemed like the USGA intended for the fun to stop at No.7 — a 199-yard par 3 where the tips were back and the pin was stuck behind three deep-face bunkers. That hole played fifth easiest on Thursday. On Saturday, it was fifth hardest. A bogey at No. 7 kept Perry from matching Michael Allen’s course-record 63 from Friday.
O’Meara finds fairways frustrating
After being in good position to make a move in Saturday’s third round, Mark O’Meara slipped in the standings with an even-par 70. One big reason: He hit just five of 13 available fairways. Though he’s tied for sixth heading into the fourth round, he’s just tied for 42nd in fairways hit.
O’Meara admitted after his round Saturday that he doesn’t like some of OCC fairways.
“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,” he said. “I can’t buy into that, if you want to ask my personal opinion.”
Corey Pavin, who shot a 64 and is the third-shortest driver of the golf ball left in the field, doesn’t mind a few extra yards that come with OCC’s fairway roll.
“The fairways are firm,” Pavin said. “They’re starting to run out a lot more, which is a good thing for me.”
Perry solves 10th hole
Perry had no idea how to play OCC’s 10th hole after Thursday’s round. By Saturday, he’d figured out the 501-yard par 4 well enough to be the only player who birdied it that day.
His solution: Pull the driver out of the bag and pound the ball over a small water hazard and bunker. His shot landed in the fairway and left him a pitching wedge to the green.
“That green is set up for a pitching wedge,” Perry said. “It’s not set up for a 5-iron from a downhill lie up that hill. I’m just going to be aggressive with it.”
Fred Funk had his drive in the fairway, too. Because he’s considerably shorter than Perry, he had an 8-iron into the green.
He left the 10th hole one of its biggest victims with a double bogey.
“It really threw me for a loop there when I walked off because I was like, ‘Golly, I took on that creek and everything down there, and I had an 8-iron,” Funk said. “And I hit it in the wrong spot (in the rough). And I was doing everything I could do not to hit double, to accept bogey, and I still hit my first chip short in the rough.”