Friday Briefing: Daunting Par 3, Roberts, Amateur Lutz Impress August 12, 2016 | Columbus, Ohio By Dave Shedloski

The par-3 17th hole has been a challenge for U.S. Senior Open competitors through the first two rounds. (USGA/Matt Sullivan)

U.S. Senior Open Home

The penultimate hole at Scioto Country Club could ultimately decide the winner of the 37th U.S. Senior Open.

One of the most picturesque holes at Scioto, No. 17 has given the field fits through the first two rounds of the championship. What makes the hole difficult is the long, shallow green, the smallest on the course, protected by a pond front and left and bunkers front and behind. It also plays into a prevailing wind, and the hilly putting surface causes a great many three-putts.

Nothing to it, really.

Statistically, the hole has played as the seventh-most difficult through two rounds, but that is deceiving. On Friday, the tee was moved forward 28 yards and it played to a length of 159 yards. The hole location, right of a ridge, was also one of the more accessible, playing away from the water. The field averaged 3.3032 strokes in Round 2, making it the ninth-easiest of the day.

Compare that to Thursday, when it was played from a middle tee and measured 187 yards to a back-left hole location on a small shelf. It induced high anxiety among competitors, and the result was a scoring average of 3.54. Only the par-4 eighth hole, which plays as a par 5 for the membership, played more difficult in the opening round.

“I think it’s a great little hole,” said Hale Irwin, who added two U.S. Senior Open titles to his three U.S. Open victories. “I think it plays better shorter, like it did today. When it plays long, where do you hit it? That’s a really tough green when you have to come into it with something more than a 6-iron.”

“It’s a beautiful hole, but it probably plays easier into the wind than downwind, because you have a chance to hold a shot and better control what your ball does,” said Kirk Triplett. “But that’s a really hard green. Even today, which was a lot easier, there was no easy place to putt from.”

Of course, given the design of the hole, and where it comes in the round, whichever tees are used for the final two days isn’t going to matter. The hole is going to be perplexing and penal.

Joey Sindelar, the 36-hole leader, explained it aptly:

“From the second and the third tee, it's a really hard equation because the standard wind is going to be left, right, and in. The green is very skinny. The water, of course, you need to find your golf ball so you can't be in the water on the left. Then you hit it over to the right, and it's very hard to make par. You've got to do some good work on 17.”

“Mr. 62” tries to go low again

No stranger to shooting a low score in the U.S. Senior Open, Loren Roberts got out of the gate fast on Friday morning at Scioto with an outward 4-under 31. He slowed down a little bit and ended up with a 2-under 68, but the bounce-back effort allowed him to climb into a tie for eighth place at 1-over 141.

Roberts holds the 18-hole championship record, shooting 62 in the third round in 2006 at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan. His 31 is the lowest score on the front nine at Scioto in a 72-hole championship, but it is not the lowest in course history. In the 2007 U.S. Open sectional qualifier, Pablo Martin had a 7-under 28 on his way to a 65, which was then a share of the course record.

“I hit a lot of greens on the front nine,” said Roberts, 61, who has been slowed in recent years by a bulging disc in his back. “I really didn't miss a shot through the first 11 holes, and I had some looks and made some good putts. You know, I missed a couple of fairways and a couple greens on the back nine, made some bogeys coming in. But all in all, I hit the ball pretty good.”

Did he give a passing thought to equaling his record round from a decade ago?

“Very briefly. I had good birdie looks at 10 and 11 and missed them, and then I had to battle coming in,” he said. “You know, it’s hard to shoot that low. Everything has to be right.”

Lutz is lone amateur survivor

An impressive 1-under 69 on Friday afternoon, when the winds were most active and the course was drying out, enabled Chip Lutz to make the 36-hole cut, the only amateur to advance to the weekend out of 23 in the field.

Fresh off winning his third Seniors Amateur Championship last week at Formby, England, Lutz, 61, of Reading, Pa., ended up at 6-over 146 through 36 holes in his U.S. Senior Open debut, clearing the hurdle with a stroke to spare. As the only amateur to advance to the weekend, he will earn low-amateur honors if he completes 72 holes.

“Wow, it was just a solid day for me,” said Lutz, who has finished as the low amateur three times in the Senior Open Championship. “I'm thrilled to make the cut. I didn't realize I was as close as I was. So I'm just thrilled to be playing the weekend, and it's quite an honor.”

Lutz, who was one of just two players to break par in the afternoon wave, kept alive a streak that now extends to 13 years of at least one amateur making the cut in the championship. The last time an amateur failed to make the cut was in 2003 at Inverness Club.

Notable and quotable

Joey Sindelar, the 36-hole leader, has held the overnight lead in the U.S. Senior Open once before, after the first round of the 2009 championship at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind. Sindelar completed 72 holes in 14 under par to finish as the runner-up, six strokes behind champion Fred Funk. His 14-under effort would have won all but three U.S. Senior Opens.

For the second day in a row, there was an eagle on the par-4 10th hole. In Round 1, it was Gary Hallberg, and on Friday it was Kevin Sutherland, who holed an 8-iron from 161 yards out of the right fairway bunker. The ball never hit the green; it slam-dunked in the hole. “I don't know how many greens I hit today, not many,” said Sutherland. “Luckily, my one good shot just flew right in.”

Two players improved by 10 strokes over their opening rounds. Peter Fowler of New Zealand followed up a 77 with a 67, and Duffy Waldorf went from 78 to 68.

After making the turn in 5 over par, Bruce Fleisher, who won the 1968 U.S. Amateur at Scioto, made six straight bogeys on his inward nine Friday and ended up with a 9-over-79. The winner of the 2001 U.S. Senior Open ended his USGA career at 11-over 151. “There comes a time when a guy says enough's enough, and the way I struck it today, enough's enough,” said Fleisher, 67, who was hampered by a left-knee injury that required surgery in March. “It's just not fun anymore at this level.” Fleisher won his Senior Open at Salem Country Club, in Peabody, Mass., which will host next year’s championship.

“I can’t tell you if I love my putter or not, but right now I do, that's for sure.” – Billy Mayfair, who is using a long putter with an adjusted method after  Rule 14-1b, which prohibits anchored strokes, went into effect in January. Mayfair had 29 putts in each of the first two rounds.                                                                                                                                    

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.

More from the 37th U.S. Senior Open