Sammamish, Wash. – The days of Tim Jackson grinding through 36-hole USGA qualifiers in the heat and humidity of western Tennessee are over. At 51 years of age, Jackson is still physically capable of walking, but the mental grind can take its toll.
That’s why Jackson loves the U.S. Senior Open. Qualifying requires only 18 holes – he was exempt this year with his tie for 11th in 2009 at Crooked Stick – and he knows that the low amateur receives a free pass into the U.S. Amateur.
And for the second consecutive year, the two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion achieved that honor. Jackson, who opened this year’s Senior Open with a 2-under-par 68, capped off his week at Sahalee Country Club with an even-par 70 to claim low-amateur honors by 14 strokes over 2009 USGA Senior Amateur runner-up John Grace.
I’m thrilled, said Jackson, who held the 18- and 36-hole leads in last year’s U.S. Senior Open. I felt some pressure today, even though I had a five-shot lead over the next guy (Steve Hudson). This course, you can get it going south so fast. And it’s hard to get it back on track.
Jackson started the day with a pair of bogeys over his first four holes, hitting the ball in the pond at the par-5 second and making an errant tee shot at No. 4. But a birdie at five, then 10 consecutive pars, got Jackson re-energized. He birdied 16 and 17 before narrowly missing a 15-foot par putt at 18.
It is hard, Jackson said of Sahalee’s tree-lined layout. Some of these shots, you feel like somebody is standing over your shoulder.
That won’t be the case at Chambers Bay, site of the U.S. Amateur later this month down the road in University Place, just south of Tacoma. Chambers Bay features only one tree on its entire layout, and it sits behind the 15th green.
Jackson hopes his schedule will be freed up so he can compete at Chambers Bay. Last year at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., he became the oldest stroke-play medalist in the championship’s history. Much like Sahalee, Southern Hills is a tight layout that rewards precision over power.
I’ve got meetings all this next week that we’ve been putting off the last three weeks, said Jackson of his normal day job. We have a big meeting on Tuesday. We’re trying to buy this company. Hopefully I can work it out that I can come back [to the Seattle area] in three weeks and play the Amateur.
Jackson, currently the president of the Tennessee Golf Association, has slowly cut back his competitive schedule over the past few years. He said this year’s U.S. Open sectional qualifier in Memphis was his last. In September, he’ll play the Tennessee State Mid-Amateur, the USGA Men’s State Team Championship at Mayacama Golf Club in Santa Rosa, Calif., and the U.S. Mid-Amateur at Atlantic Golf Club in Bridgehampton, N.Y.
Jackson has also spent time playing with his 16-year-old son, Austin, who caddied for him this week. While Austin has yet to beat his dad, Tim said he has the potential to be a strong player.
He’s got the raw ability if he will just apply himself, said Jackson of his son. He has length. He hits it the same distance as me. This is a big year for him. He’s going into 10th grade. He needs to step it up and apply himself.
When Olin Browne made the turn with a championship-low 30, thoughts of possibly matching the U.S. Senior Open record of 62 (Loren Roberts) were swirling in his head.
When I turned in 30, I thought here we go, said Browne. And then I just couldn’t get any putts to go on the last nine.
Browne made nine consecutive pars and settled for a 65, matching Fred Couples’ championship-best score that he posted on Saturday. Browne’s four-round total of 2 under par put him into a tie for third with John Cook.
I made a couple of great saves on 16 and 18, said Browne, who played with only 13 clubs on Friday after the clubhead on his pitching wedge came off while he was warming up. But once I looked up in the middle of the round and saw that Bernhard [Langer] was at eight under, there’s no hope. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t going to shoot 29 on the back after shooting 30 on the front.
I’m glad I strung together three nice rounds. I wish I could have played better the first day (73), so I could have been more relevant today. But it’s definitely a positive for me, something to go forward the rest of the season.
Closing In Style
But for a third-round 75, Tom Watson might have been in the hunt Sunday for his first U.S. Senior Open title after he closed with a 4-under-par 66.
"My game is not very sharp right now, even though I shot 66 today," said Watson, who finished fifth at 1-over 281. "The consistency is not there. Every now and then I hit a good solid shot, but the ball is not on the clubface. And I'm not catching the ball on the clubface very well."
Watson, 60, winner of the 1982 U.S. Open, converted six birdies Sunday to offset two bogeys and close with an inward 32, best of the day. He said he was looking forward to some time off after playing three straight weeks, including consecutive tournaments in Scotland before he arrived at Sahalee.
"I am ready for a rest, to be honest with you," he said. "I don't know if that has anything to do with it, but again, over at the British Open I didn't catch the ball on the clubface very well over there, either."
Forsman’s Forward Progress
After a rocky opening round of 78, Dan Forsman improved every day, shooting 71-69-67 over the final three rounds to move into a tie for 12th place. Forsman began the final round in a tie for 27th and his final-round 67 tied for the third-best round of the day.
Personally, it was a little victory, and one that I feel strongly that I needed, said Forsman. He had to make a birdie on his final hole on Thursday just to shoot his 78. After the long flight over from the British Senior last week, I was clearly deflated. I needed to get my rest, and I started feeling better about my game.
Forsman, 52, is fourth on the Champions Tour money list this season, but he knows that the U.S. Senior Open is a different kind of test.
Anytime you play a USGA event, you better be ready and be familiar with it, the conditions, firmness, where they put the pins and such, and basically how far the ball is going, said Forsman, who finished in a tie for 13th in last year’s U.S. Senior Open at Crooked Stick. The USGA is constantly going to challenge your game; you need to check your ego at the door and you need to play what they give you. You better hit the fairways and the greens. You have to putt the ball as well, and I seemed to do that well all three days.
Eight Was Too Much
The collective air went out of the huge gallery when hometown favorite Fred Couples suffered a triple-bogey 8 on the par-5 second hole.
Forced to lay up after missing the fairway in the right intermediate rough, Couples chunked his third shot into the pond guarding the front-right portion of the green. After knocking his fifth shot over the green, Couples needed three more strokes to get down for an 8. When third-round co-leader Bernhard Langer two-putted for birdie, the hole turned into a four-shot swing.
The triple bogey by Couples was the second of two made at the hole Sunday (Loren Roberts). More telling was the fact that those were two of only five scores all week higher than double bogey. The second played the easiest hole statistically for the week at a 4.92 stroke average.
David Shefter and Ron Driscoll are USGA communications staff members, while Dave Shedloski is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.