EDMOND, Okla. – Turning back the clock is always the goal of Champions Tour players. Jeff Sluman so far has been successful in the 35th U.S. Senior Open.
"Is it '88 all over again? Plus 26 years, I guess," Sluman said Friday with a wry smile when he was asked if he felt the same as he did in 1988, when he won the PGA Championship at Oak Tree National. "The golf course is very similar."
Sluman's chances this week are looking almost as good as they did then. After a 2-under-par 69 on Friday, Sluman stood among the top 10 on the leader board at 3-under 139. Naturally, he liked his position, especially given his history at Oak Tree, and also given that he was 2 over par on his round through six holes. He was still 2 over before playing his last six holes in 4 under with two birdies and an eagle at the par-5 seventh hole.
"It certainly helps when you come to a golf course, A, and you like it, and B, you have some success," said Sluman, 56, of Hinsdale, Ill., who owns six wins on the PGA Tour and six on the Champions Tour. "I have been very fortunate to be competitive for a while in that, so I just go about my business. I like Opens. I like the setups, the fact that you really have to stay patient out there.
"I feel pretty good about where I'm at."
Returning to the Site of the 1984 U.S. Amateur
The story of Scott Verplank making his U.S. Senior Open debut on the course, not only where he lives, but where he won the 1984 U.S. Amateur, is well-documented. Verplank is actually one of 14 players in this week’s field who competed in that U.S. Amateur, 11 of whom made the cut.
Three of the four match-play semifinalists are competing here 30 years later, including runner-up Sam Randolph and Jerry Haas. The absent 1984 semifinalist was Randy Sonnier. Among 2014 competitors, Jeff Maggert and Scott Dunlap advanced to the Round of 16 in 1984, while Rocco Mediate defeated two-time defending champion Jay Sigel in the Round of 64 before being eliminated himself.
Success in the U.S. Amateur all those years ago proved to be a poor predictor of performance this week. Verplank missed the 36-hole cut, while Randolph, who would win the U.S. Amateur the following year, made the weekend with just one shot to spare. Dunlap and Marco Dawson got off to strong starts in the Senior Open, but that likely doesn’t have much to do with their course knowledge. While Dunlap remembered a little bit about the golf course when he arrived, Dawson couldn’t say the same.
It was funny because I thought, when I get out there I'll start to remember some of the holes, and I could not remember a hole, said Dawson, who shot a 5-under 66 on Thursday before stumbling with a 76 on Friday. I guess it was that long ago. I tried but I couldn't remember any of the holes.
With years of competitive golf under their belts, details from that long ago often become rather hazy. Some things, however, stick out more than others, as Randolph can attest to.
I remember the roll that Verplank went on to beat me.
Laoretti Celebrates Birthday, Likely Swan Song
Larry Laoretti had not played in a U.S. Senior Open in five years, but he got an offer he couldn’t refuse for this year’s championship at Oak Tree National.
I represent the Fox Club in Palm City [Fla.], said Laoretti. Donnie Weeks, who is a member here at Oak Tree, is also a member at my club. He said, ‘You can come and stay with me. I’ll caddie for you and I’ll feed you.’ How could I turn that down?
On Friday, Laoretti, who won the 1992 Senior Open at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pa., celebrated his 75th birthday in what is likely to be his last start in the championship. Laoretti, who was paired with 1999 Senior Open winner Dave Eichelberger and David Ishii, shot 82 on Thursday, and stood at 14 over for his round through 12 holes on Friday when he reached a crucial point.
I hit a shot – I thought it was a pretty good shot, and they said it went in the water, said Laoretti. We never found the ball. I [would have] had to walk back. At this point in my life, I don't want to walk backward, I want to walk forward. I didn’t finish out. I [played] the rest of the holes with the guys, though.
Laoretti was officially listed as having withdrawn from the championship. He is eligible for next year’s Senior Open, which would be his 20th start, but doesn’t expect to play. Laoretti said, I think this is my last go. It’s just too hard. I’m not competitive. The golf course here is absolutely magnificent, but it’s just too hard for me.
Eichelberger Looking Forward to 2015
Larry Laoretti’s fellow competitor Dave Eichelberger, the 1999 Senior Open champion, shot 77-76 to miss the cut by four strokes at age 70.
This place is pretty tough for everybody, said Eichelberger. I’ve been playing every day, walking the past couple of months, so I got through it OK. I wasn’t ready for last year at Omaha [Country Club]. Those hills were tough.
Eichelberger is looking forward to the 2015 Senior Open, at Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento, Calif., which Eichelberger referred to as an old-style course that is likely to play similarly to Indianwood Golf & Country Club, the 2012 Senior Open site in Lake Orion, Mich.
If it was like this, I don’t know if I could handle any more Pete Dye, said Eichelberger. He’s pretty tough on us old boys.
Eichelberger, a native of Waco, Texas, who lives in Honolulu, was playing in his 21st consecutive Senior Open, five short of Dale Douglass’ record 26, which ended in 2011.
It’s getting close, said Eichelberger. I can see the end for sure.
Younger Funk to the Rescue for Browne
Taylor Funk was following his father, 2009 U.S. Senior Open champion Fred Funk, outside the ropes at Oak Tree National Friday afternoon, but then got a closer look at the action over the last three holes.
Olin Browne, playing in the same group with Funk, needed the younger Funk to carry his bag when his caddie, Otis Buck Moore, had to retire for the day because of heat exhaustion.
"He's OK. He just got a little dehydrated," Browne said of Moore, who caddied for Browne when he won the U.S. Senior Open in 2011 at Inverness Club. "He was drinking a lot of water but it just wasn't getting into his system. He wasn't feeling his best and he was starting to feel the effects of the heat. Taylor was out there following with his dad so he jumped on the bag and he helped me out a lot."
Indeed, Browne birdied Nos. 7 and 8 but then bogeyed No. 9, his final hole, to complete a round of 1-over-72, tied for 13th place.
Funk, 19, a sophomore at the University of Texas, is a fine player in his own right. He finished tied for eighth last week at the Trans-Mississippi Championship at Southern Hills Country Club in nearby Tulsa. He said it was not the first time he caddied in a pinch, once helping Jay Don Blake.
"It's fun. I get to newsContent for two guys," Funk said.
Browne plans to give Moore the day off Saturday and employ Funk for the full third round. He hopes to have Moore back on Sunday.
Thursday Rain Means Extra Golf For Final Group
Playing 18 holes at Oak Tree National in the middle of an Oklahoma summer is a challenge. The group of Tim Parun, Joe Palmer and Steve Schneiter had to go above and beyond that on Friday.
As the last group off the 10th tee on Thursday afternoon, they had their starting time pushed back to 4:06 p.m. by a 77-minute rain delay. They played in waning daylight for much of their inward nine before play was suspended when they were putting on the eighth green, their 17th hole. While they had the option to finish the hole, they chose to putt out on Friday morning. Either way, they would have had to play their last hole the following day. They were the only players not to finish Round 1 on Thursday.
Initially I was thinking I wanted to do it, because I was in the groove, but the other players didn’t want to [continue], and then I started to feel that my putt was downwind, and it was downhill and would have been tough to stop, said Parun. When I rethought it, I decided, ‘You know what? Let’s go get it in the morning.’
While Round 2 officially began at 7:15 on Friday morning, the trio resumed their first rounds at 8:15 a.m., which gave them about 45 minutes from the time they signed their scorecards to when they had to be on the first tee for Round 2.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who writes frequently for USGA websites. Scott Lipsky and Ron Driscoll contributed to this report.