Lake Orion, Mich. – Peter Jacobsen was in Tom Kite’s first-round U.S. Senior Open grouping on Thursday, but in presence only.
I felt like the Washington Generals playing the Harlem Globetrotters, Jacobsen said. I was his towel boy.
Kite opened this 33rd Senior Open at Indianwood Golf & Country Club with a USGA Open championship record 7-under-par 28 en route to a 5-under 65 that held up through the afternoon groupings.
That front nine was a pretty incredible nine holes of golf, Kite said.
More like historic.
The 28 is one stroke better than the previous record of 29 recorded four times – by Neal Lancaster twice (1995, U.S. Open, Shinnecock Hills Golf Club; 1996, U.S. Open, Oakland Hills Country Club), by Vijay Singh (2003, U.S. Open, Olympia Fields Country Club), and by defending Senior Open champion Olin Browne, on the second nine of his third round en route to victory last year at Inverness Club.
Kite’s opening nine included five birdies and an eagle 2 – a 155-yard, 8-iron approach to a blind hole location on the 434-yard, par-4 fourth hole. His five birdie putts were between 12 and 18 feet, and four of the putts came from ideal positions on the green – below the hole.
Kite, 62, brought himself back to the field on the more difficult inward nine, recording seven straight pars before a double bogey on the 194-yard, par-3 17th hole. He also made an up-and-down par from about 40 feet on the 18th hole.
I thought there would be some 65s, 66s, 67s shot this week, said Kite, the 1992 U.S. Open champion who is seeking his first senior version in his 13 starts. It's going to be difficult to do it four days in a row. This golf course has enough bite in it that it's not going to let the same person get it every day, for sure.
Kite’s 65 was one of 28 under-par rounds for the day, with his closest pursuers Lance Ten Broeck, who is making his first U.S. Senior Open appearance, and Bernhard Langer, who both shot 4-under 66.
Tom Pernice Jr. shot an early 3-under 67, then was joined by Jeff Sluman, Fred Funk and Corey Pavin in the afternoon.
Pavin walked off the course with a 5-under 65, but incurred a two-stroke penalty before signing his scorecard for an infraction of Rule 18-2a that occurred on the fifth hole – his 14th.
As Pavin addressed his ball in the greenside rough, he noticed the ball oscillate slightly and thought the ball returned to its original position. Television replays later showed that the ball did indeed move.
The ball moved about a dimple or two is what happened, he said. I thought it had moved and then come back to its position. And it was obvious on the tape that it moved and didn't come back.
So, once I saw it in slow motion, I could see it, and it was obvious. It's a two‑stroke penalty. That's the way it is.
Instead of being tied, Kite owns his first U.S. Senior Open lead outright.
Jacobsen, the 2004 U.S. Senior Open champion who shot an even-par 70, watched as Kite hit range balls prior to a ninth-place finish at last week’s Champions Tour event, the Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach. Jacobsen liked what he saw then and again today, but was equally impressed by Kite’s putting.
Tom putted as well with the long putter today as I've seen him in five or six years he's used that putter, said Jacobsen of Kite’s 25-putt round. He was confident. He stepped up to every putt and he was very assertive. He had great speed.
The two‑putt he had on 18 was amazing. He had to go over one of those muffins and knocked it down about 4 feet and confidently knocked it in.
Kite, who only had one top-10 Champions Tour finish prior to last week at Pebble Beach, said his swing had been out of sorts this season, but has progressed of late.
I'm not sure it's back where it totally needs to be yet, but it's moving in the right direction, he said.
While Kite has been diligently working to regain his form – he had just three top-10 finishes in his past 37 Champions Tour starts dating to the end of the 2010 season – Ten Broeck surprised himself.
"I wouldn't think I would shoot this low, to be honest with you," said Ten Broeck, who has spent eight of the past nine weeks caddieing on tour. The other week, Ten Broeck tied for 71st at the Champions Tour’s Principal Charity Classic.
Langer, who won this championship in 2010, turned in a round that ran counter to the norm. On the more difficult inward nine he posted a bogey-free 4-under 31, which tied Mikael Hogberg for the lowest score of the 28 players under par.
Drove the ball tremendously, said Langer, the 1993 and 1995 Masters champion, who hit 11 of 14 fairways. Hit some really good iron shots. Had lots of opportunities early on and didn't make anything. Made one putt on [the fourth hole] where I made birdie, and then I three‑putted the next hole for bogey. Had lots of chances. Finally, on the back side, I converted a few.
Indianwood’s Old Course played to a stroke average of 73.319 in the opening round, but Kite proved the best – at least for one day – at beating the course.
If you play well, there are some opportunities out there, Kite said. But I certainly didn't see any 28s or anything like that.
Neither had anyone else.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on USGA websites.