Sammamish, Wash. – During a perfect warm summer evening garden party, one Seattle golfer and his throng of fans enjoyed themselves to the fullest, and all the while remained gracious hosts to their foreign visitor.
While the play of Fred Couples in the evening shadows sent roars rifling through the towering evergreens of Sahalee Country Club at the 31st U.S. Senior Open, it wasn’t enough to knock Bernhard Langer from the top perch at the halfway point Friday.
A two-hour-plus fog delay in the morning pushed tee times back nearly two hours, so Couples finished his round well into twilight, much to the delight of his fans, who didn’t mind at all that their dinner and drinkscame while walking the lush grounds of Sahalee.
Couples finished with an even-par 70, which couldn’t catch Langer’s 68 from earlier in the day. At 3-under-par 137, Langer is leading by two strokes over J.R. (Jeff) Roth (66), John Cook (68) and Tommy Armour III (68). Bruce Vaughan, the first-round leader after a 66, crashed to a 12-over 82 when a bogey on the par-3 fifth began a fast cascade down the leaderboard. He followed with a double bogey 6 on No. 6 and closed his disappointing day with seven consecutive bogeys.
Couples and fellow competitor Tom Watson each fired their second consecutive 70s over the 6,866-yard layout, and will be paired again Saturday at 11:52 a.m. PDT when they start the third round in a four-way tie for fifth.
They were 10-deep out there, that was great, Watson said. Yeah, he’s got a crowd following him, doesn’t he? And it was loud, ‘Come on Freddie. In the hole.’
Added Couples: People love golf in the Northwest, and they’re coming out and supporting me, which is great.
Langer, the only player under par both days, was his usual placid self in posting his 68 with a typical mix of birdies, one eagle and some par-saves. He will go for back-to-back majors after winning the Senior British Open last week at Carnoustie in Scotland. Watson was the last player to win consecutive Champions Tour majors, claiming the Senior British and JELD-WEN Tradition in 2003.
I hit it straight and made some putts, said Langer. It’s always the same, isn’t it? Just different venues, different conditions, but it’s always the same idea. Hit it where you’re looking and try to play smart, attack the holes that can be attacked and play smart on the other ones.
It’s a formula that’s worked for the 52-year-old German. Along with two Masters titles, he has one other PGA Tour triumph, 11 victories on the Champions Tour and 22 on the European Tour.
Bernhard is one of our better players, obviously, and he’ll be tough to catch, Cook said. He goes about his business the way he wants to and doesn’t, really doesn’t waiver. So we have to go get him.
And Langer’s consistency doesn’t come by accident.
I don’t drink, I don’t smoke and I get plenty of rest, he said about his regimen to stay healthy and fit I make sure I get about eight hours of sleep, so all of that over the years probably helps.
Is there a need for a sports psychologist?
I’m a Christian, I read the Bible, and it’s all in there, he added. You don’t have to see a sports psychologist, you just open the Bible.
Langer opened his round after the two-hour fog delay with a 6-foot birdie on the 403-yard first hole, but it looked like he was going to give it back when he dumped his second shot into the water on the 508-yard, par-5 second hole. But in a preview of what was to come later, he made a great par save with an up-and-down from 80 yards. Bogeys on the third and ninth holes left Langer one over for the day.
He got back in the groove on the 545-yard, par-5 11th hole with a 30-footer for eagle and followed that up with great par-saves, first on No. 12 and then on No. 15 when a pushed drive hit the trees and left him in deep rough with a bad angle to the green. His approach caught the left bunker, and he blasted out to 15 feet below the hole and made the par-saving putt.
So that was pretty key, he said about the putt that he followed with a mild fist pump that showed some emotion, but never too much.
A perfectly played 6-iron on the 205-yard, par-3 17th left him flag-high with a 9-footer for birdie.
Jeff Roth, who also goes by J.R., matched the low score of the championship with a display of spectacular putting.
I’m a good enough putter, if I have a chance on birdies I’ll make a few, said the club pro from Flushing, N.M., who is most known for his competitive days playing out of Michigan. I made a bomb on that last hole.
Roth, who has played in five PGA Championships, claimed it was from 50 feet, but his caddie, Rod Pattan, who pays closer attention to those details, calmed him down by saying it was only 35 feet.
Seemed longer than that, Roth said. I was going to say 50, but he knows.
The one thing Roth is certain about is that he enjoys the tough course conditions found this week at Sahalee.
I think the way the USGA sets up a golf course is really good for me because I’m one of those guys that grinds it out, said Roth. And I can make as good a par as anybody and that’s usually a pretty good score.
Cook put together three consecutive birdies from No. 2, his second nine on Friday, and then saved the round with an impressive birdie on No. 8 to offset bogeys at seven and nine.
I hit a real quality 5-iron up there about 15 feet and made it, Cook said of the eighth hole. But then I came back and didn’t hit a very good shot at No. 9 and made bogey. Not a good way to end, but 68 in a U.S. Open is not so bad so I’m happy with that.
Armour, the grandson of 1927 U.S. Open champion Tommy Armour, jumped into the tie for second with a birdie at the challenging par-3 17th, which was rewarding only precise shot-making.
I hit a lot of good shots and I was just shooting at the middle of the greens, he said.
For Couples, the biggest roar came when he drained a 30-footer for birdie on the ninth hole to jump to one under for the championship. Some shaky iron play on Nos. 12 and 13, however, led to bogeys and it took a birdie on No. 16 to get back to even.
Today was a pretty good round, but I’m not hitting any irons really, really good, I will say that, said the three-time Champions Tour winner playing in his first U.S. Senior Open.
I’m going to have to start playing a heck of a lot better to shoot under par, he said.
And if he does, his legion of fans will have another party.
Paul Ramsdell is a Seattle-based freelance writer who is contributing articles this week for the U.S. Senior Open website.