Round 1: Five Things to Watch For June 28, 2017 | PEABODY, Mass. By Dave Shedloski

Fred Couples, playing in his first U.S. Senior Open since 2013, tees off at 1:58 p.m. (USGA/Jeff Haynes)

U.S. Senior Open Home

This week’s 38th U.S. Senior Open is the perfect meeting of classic golfers taking on a classic golf course.

The Donald Ross-designed Salem Country Club is just 6,815 yards, hardly a troublesome length even for the over-50 crowd. But the par-70 layout presents an intriguing blend of challenges, with most of the spice provided by the small, tilted old-style putting surfaces that are a Ross trademark.

Precision is the coin of the realm this week. And players will get a lot of bang for their buck if they’re dealing in that currency.

Here’s what to watch for in the opening round:

  • Precision: We just mentioned it. Specifically, on approach shots into the green. A half-inch of rain fell Tuesday night, taking a lot of fire out of the putting surfaces. Chances are, the hole locations will be on the more accessible side to get 156 players around the course in the opening round. If a player can get dialed in on his irons, a low score can be had.
  • Fred Couples: The winner of last week’s American Family Insurance Championship is making just his eighth start of the season and his first in this championship since 2013, as his chronically unpredictable back ailment continues to sidetrack him. Playing two weeks in a row isn’t generally good for the long-hitting Hall of Famer, who finished T-18 at the Masters at age 57, so watch for signs of physical distress. He did bring his back doctor with him to Salem, so if he remains close to 100 percent, he’ll be dangerous.
  • Analyze this: Nick Faldo of CBS Sports, who turns 60 next month and finally is making his U.S. Senior Open debut, is playing in just his second event of the season. The six-time major champion knocked off the rust last week in Wisconsin at the Am Fam Championship, finishing a disappointing T-72. Once one of the game’s most exquisite shot-makers, Faldo is basically cramming for a very tough exam. But if he finds a level of control tee to green and putts decently, he’ll play four rounds, which would be an achievement in itself.
  • Short games: It’s very likely that no one is going to hit all 18 greens in regulation, which means that chipping will be hugely integral to success. Problem is, there’s so few good places to miss it. “You never want to be above the hole on a Donald Ross green,” said Ben Kimball, the USGA’s inside-the-ropes director of the championship. “But even from the sides it’s no bargain. Short game is going to have to be on. The putting surfaces are going to be the true showcase the next four days.”
  • Kurt Van Hees: Playing in his first U.S. Senior Open, Van Hees, 51, has led somewhat of a soap opera life. He was a fine junior golfer who then got into swimming, which segued into a career as a Speedo model. The golf bug overtook him again after he suffered a horrific injury in a gym while working out, one that required extensive plastic surgery on the right side of his face. Winner of several mini-tour events in Northern California, Van Hees got into the championship as an alternate out of Green Valley, Calif. He called his berth in the field “a dream come true.” How do you not root for a guy like that?

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to USGA websites.

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