As predicted in this space Friday morning, resistance to scoring was expected to be minimal in the second round of the 40th U.S. Senior Open if the Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame remained soft and the breezes were equally so.
Well, guess what? All that happened was that Steve Stricker backed up a record-tying, first-round 62 with another low round. The 2020 USA Ryder Cup captain fired a second-round 64 and broke both the 36-hole scoring record and the 36-hole record in relation to par with his 14-under 126 performance.
“I feel good,” Stricker said, before dancing and twerking and doing his best James Brown imitation.
No, wait. He didn’t do any of that. We’re talking about mild-mannered Steve Stricker here. But dangerous Steve Stricker when the putter is en fuego. And he does feel good, though he does not feel nice, not after losing a playoff to fellow Wisconsin native Jerry Kelly in last week’s PGA Tour Champions event in their hometown of Madison. Stricker came to his first U.S. Senior Open in an ornery mood after the disappointing loss. So he’s taking it out on the Warren Course and his fellow senior golfers.
Some aren’t taking it well. “Let’s get it on the table right now,” Billy Andrade said, trying to keep a straight face. “Steve Stricker is kind of becoming a jerk. This isn't right. You can't look up at the board and see 14 under. It's not the Greater Milwaukee Open.”
Funny he should choose that now defunct PGA Tour event. It’s almost as if he has Wisconsin on the brain. He isn’t alone.
Here are three things to know as the third round gets underway.
Whether or not the golf course dries out and becomes firmer and faster – and there is some doubt that it will before the end of the championship – there is a mentality permeating the field that this U.S. Senior Open will be a birdie battle. Several players volunteered on Friday that their mindset is to play more aggressively and try to chase the pacesetters because the belief is that Stricker, Kelly and David Toms, who is three behind in third place, aren’t backing up. “I can’t imagine pars are going to do much for us,” said Kirk Triplett, who is tied for fifth at 8 under par. Bernhard Langer, who trails by eight, knows the importance of moving day, but even he was seeing things differently going forward. “I don’t need one low round,” he said. “It’s going to take a couple.” Let the red numbers fly.
The state of Wisconsin was bogey-free on Friday as the aforementioned Stricker and Kelly each escaped with clean cards in their matching 64s. Good friends who have known each other since competing in state events at the junior level, the duo will go out in the final pairing at 3:25 p.m. EDT. They will have to be careful to not try too hard to beat each other and lose track of the rest of the field. Fortunately, they’ve been down this road before. Kelly, who trails by two strokes as 12-under 128, refers to their relationship as a “competitive bond” between two men of different personalities. “I don't know how to put it,” he added. “We pull for each other, but … even when we're teammates, we want to make that putt first. We want to be the one to win. It's really cool that way. He feels the same way. It's been really fun that way.” It would surprise no one if they were still the top two come Saturday night.
For only the second time in the history of the championship, no amateur advanced to the weekend. The only other year this occurred was 2003 at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. Mike McCoy, the 2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion, was closest to qualifying, making a birdie on the final hole for his second straight 71 to miss by one stroke. Exactly 60 players made the cut on the number of 1-over 141, which ties the lowest cut in U.S. Senior Open history. Undoubtedly it was the birdie barrage in the first two rounds that contributed to all 22 amateurs in the 156-player field going home early.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based writer whose work appears regularly on USGA digital channels.