August 11-15, 2016
Though rain had threatened several times in the preceding days, Mother Nature seemed to be on Scioto’s side, and the opening round of the championship on August 11th was sunny, but muggy, and it would be sweltering in the afternoon each of the first two days. Ohio State product Brian Mogg had the honor of hitting the first tee shot at 7:30 am off the No. 1 tee. He piped it. I was nervous, but it was a cool kind of nervous,” he said.
Also cool in the heat was three-time major winner Vijay Singh. Since he competes primarily on the PGA Tour, his appearance was a welcome shot of star power. The strong Fijian took advantage of the softer morning conditions to fire a 4-under 66 with five birdies and one bogey to take a two-shot lead.
At one point mid-morning, there were seventeen players under par. But only eight in the wave would complete eighteen holes in red figures, with Jeff Gallagher, Michael Allen, and Miguel Angel Jimenez two strokes behind Singh with 68s, and Michael Bradley, Ian Woosnam, Takeshi Sakiyama, and former U.S. Amateur Champion Scott Verplank adding 69s. As the temperatures rose throughout the day, so did the scores. Singh wasn’t the least bit surprised, noting that Scioto could host a tournament on the regular tour.
You can hold anything here,” he said. Going out there on a regular tour event or even a U.S. Open, obviously, the greens … they could make the greens a lot faster and firmer, but this is a really good test of golf. If anybody has any complaint about this golf course, he must be off his head.”
The first-round scoring average was 75.3078.
At 7:30 a.m. Friday, as the second round was commencing, the thermometer read 83 degrees. The heat index once again crossed the 100 boundary just past noon. The morning wave clearly enjoyed an advantage, and, sure enough, the leader after thirty-six holes was a player who got to post an early number and then head for air-conditioned comfort.
Following a 1-under 69 with a brilliant 66, Joey Sindelar, playing with fellow Buckeyes Rod Spittle and John Cook, moved out front with a 5-under 135 total, two ahead of Gene Sauers and three clear of rookie Billy Mayfair, who had turned fifty on the Saturday before the championship and had put together the cleanest golf, suffering just one bogey. They were the only three players with two rounds under par.
Sindelar, 58, was halfway to becoming the third Ohio State player to win the U.S. Senior Open. The others were Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf. The healthy crowd was loving it. Well, I’ve never been unconvinced that that many people in your corner, as the four of us have witnessed this week, cannot somehow kind of talk you into what might happen,” an ebullient Sindelar said, noting the support he and his fellow Buckeyes had been receiving.
That support would carry Mogg and Spittle to the weekend, but Cook fell shy by a stroke after missing a three-foot par putt on the ninth for 73-148. Sixty-three players made the cut of 147. Only one amateur among the twenty-three in the field made the cut as Chip Lutz, three-time Senior British Amateur Champion, shot one of the two sub-par rounds of the afternoon, a 69. That was six better than first-round leader Singh, who struggled to a 75. Overall scoring was slightly improved as the field averaged 74.9319, but there were just ten scores in red figures. Just seven players were under par after two rounds.
Minding the threat of thunderstorms Saturday afternoon and evening, the USGA moved tee times forward and sent players off both tees again instead of using a one-tee start as is typical on the weekend. The first times were 7:45 am, and the lead trio of Sindelar, Sauers, and Mayfair embarked at 9:30 am. It couldn’t have unfolded more perfectly as a gully washer hit as that trio was on the 17th green. It came and went quickly and they were able to finish before precipitation increased.
It became the guest that wouldn’t leave.
But the most unwelcome visitor, at least to the players, was a gusting wind that conspired with a tough setup and greens approaching 13 on the Stimpmeter to send scores soaring. Sindelar and Mayfair were the leaders most affected. The former shot 77 while the latter salvaged a 75 after an opening double bogey. The leader after 54 holes was a familiar figure, Spain’s Jimenez, who had led going into the final round of the previous two PGA Tour Champions events, including the Senior Open Championship at Carnoustie, eventually won by Paul Broadhurst. With the wind gusting to 25 miles per hour, Jimenez powered his way to a 69, one of just four scores to better par. David Frost was the low man with a 68.
Seeking to become the first player from Spain to win a USGA event, Jimenez, 53, stood at 3-under 207, while Sauers managed to hang tough with a 71 and 208 aggregate score thanks mainly to a fifty-foot birdie putt from off the green at 17.
Tied for third at 1-over par were Mayfair, Ian Woosnam (70), and Loren Roberts (70). But the day was more about mayhem than magic. The wind was sending some shots twenty-thirty yards off line. The setup was difficult too. Some tees were back, like at eight, 17 and 18, stretching the course to 7,098 yards. The result was real carnage to scorecards. Former PGA champions Jeff Sluman and Mark Brooks shot 80, while another PGA winner, Bob Tway, had 79. Fred Funk, the 2009 U.S. Senior Open Champion, who had been slowed for weeks by a nagging back injury, struggled to 81. You hit it bad today and it was a continual struggle just to make bogeys,” he said. And Singh carded his second straight 75 to fall well off the pace after holding the first-round lead.
Then there was Tom Watson. A month shy of 67, he was in the hunt through two rounds with 72-70, but struggled to an 82, the highest score of the day and the highest he ever shot in the championship - by four strokes. That’s right, one of the finest wind players in the annals of golf was 12-over par. Of course, Bobby Jones had that 79 in the second round of the 1926 U.S. Open, and Arnold Palmer had his troubles at Scioto, too. Scioto can take down the greatest players.
The scoring average of 73.9421 suggested it was the easiest day, but that was misleading with just four rounds under par. Another indication of the difficulty was the fact that Jimenez’ 3-under total represented the highest score leading the U.S. Senior Open at fifty-four holes since 2001 when Isao Aoki was 2 under at Salem Country Club.
After nearly 45 hours and 2.85 inches of rain, the championship finally resumed at 11:30 am Monday, August 16. The weather that just missed the players at the end of round three - and had missed the course for most of the week - thundered overhead with a vengeance on Saturday afternoon. Play was scheduled to resume at 10:45 am Sunday, but dangerous conditions (potential for lightning) kept players firmly planted in the dining room, where many waited out the delay by following on television the conclusion of the Men’s Olympic golf competition from Rio.
No golf was played on Sunday, though the USGA had intentions of at least getting out there for a few hours. It never happened, however, even as the grounds crew worked feverishly to make the course playable. USGA historian Mike Trostel said that his research indicated that it would be the first Monday finish in U.S. Senior Open history that was not due to a playoff. There were four playoffs that ended on Mondays: in 1981, 1983, 1988, and 1991, the latter won by Jack Nicklaus, which would make the 2016 edition the first Monday finish of any kind in the championship in twenty-five years.
The good news was that FOX promised to cover the final round to conclusion on FS1 starting at 9 am. The bad news was that when 9 am arrived, Joe Buck and Paul Azinger welcomed viewers from the Women’s locker room, where FOX had set up its studio. Another front was bearing down on Scioto, one with more rain and winds that could reach sixty miles per hour. Players had to scurry back into the locker room. The course was cleared, and the Media Center on the east end of the driving range was evacuated.
The forecast looked bleak. Two players, Fred Funk and Kirk Triplett, withdrew after this last delay, leaving the field with sixty players. (Kenny Perry had withdrawn after nine holes in round 3 with a bad back.) Funk’s departure created what was believed to be the first foursome in a USGA championship stroke-play event. Funk was scheduled to play in a twosome with Japan’s Kyoshi Murota, going off last on No. 10. The USGA moved Murota up to play with Watson, Mogg, and Mark Calcavecchia. Scioto made history again.
Luckily, a window materialized. The high winds whistled on by north of the Club, and a hazy sunshine prevailed. Golf commenced at 11:30, though Bob Becker’s crew continued to squeegee fairways after play began. Allowing for the moisture throughout the course, the USGA altered the setup, shaving 132 yards off the setup it planned for Sunday.
With the 11th hole playing as a drivable par-4 of 288 yards - which only Michael Allen eagled with driver and an eight-foot putt - there was potential for a player to pick up perhaps four strokes to par on 11 and 12. No one took advantage. As the leaders made the turn, Sauers and Jimenez were still the only players under par. Allen, thanks to his eagle, Woosnam, and Mayfair would join them, albeit briefly.
Sindelar went out in 2-under 33 without a bogey to make a last push, but he could only par 11 and 12, the second with a disheartening 3-putt from forty-five feet. When he chopped up 13 to suffer a double-bogey 6, his bid was done. He ended up tied for eleventh.
Sauers, runner-up two years earlier, only to lose to Colin Montgomerie in a playoff, retained a one-stroke lead when he converted from four feet for birdie at the 12th while Jimenez birdied from two feet after a superb bunker shot. Meanwhile, Mayfair was insinuating himself into the storyline. When he drilled a sixteen-footer for birdie at the par-4 15th, he was 2-under par and only two behind. He would miss birdie tries on each of the last three holes for 67 and 278, the best seventy-two-hole aggregate in Scioto history. At least for a half-hour.
Behind him, Jimenez had regained the lead with a twenty-foot birdie at the 15th while Sauers was lucky to make bogey, converting an eight-footer to stay within a shot. It would stay that way until Jimenez bogeyed the 17th from the back bunker to fall into a tie with Sauers at -3. So it all came down to 18. Just like 1926. Just like 1968. Douglass in 1986 at least had the luxury of a two-stroke cushion.
Both men drove poorly, with Sauers duck hooking well left, a break because it ended up in an area mostly flattened by spectators. He had 229 to the hole and managed to get a 3-iron on the ball and send it to the right front fringe. Jimenez found a terrible lie 190 yards from the flagstick, but he could only gouge it into the right greenside bunker. Woosnam, meanwhile, who didn’t seem to be in the mix, found the green hole high, twenty-five feet from a birdie and a potential tie if both of his partners bogeyed.
Sauers played first and skidded his shot to five feet below the hole. Jimenez nearly flew his bunker shot into the hole, but it was too strong and went twelve feet by. Woosnam putted first and left his attempt an inch shy and on the left. Par. Jimenez next, and as he stood over his putt, a bell tolled in the background ominously. It was 6 pm. He never got the attempt on line. Bogey. A miss by Sauers and there would be a three-man three-hole aggregate playoff followed by sudden death if there were still a tie.
So much was riding on the par putt for Sauers. There was the disappointment of two years ago. More significantly, it was a miracle he was even playing. Five years ago he had spent seven weeks in the hospital and was given only a 25 percent chance of survival after having an adverse reaction to medication for psoriatic arthritis that seized him in 2008 and contracting a rare skin disorder, Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. Having missed several chances coming home, the putt seemed like fifty feet. Somehow, he guided it home. He raised his arms with relief etched on his face. The time was 6:02 pm.
Sauers, 53, of Savannah, Georgia, joined Roberto De Vicenzo (1980), Weiskopf (1995), Don Pooley (2002), Peter Jacobsen (2004), and Olin Browne (2011) as players making the U.S. Senior Open their first senior victory. With a closing 69, he finished at 3-under 277, the lowest winning score at Scioto but the highest winning score in the championship since Fleisher’s 1-under effort at Salem Country Club in 2001.
It’s been a long time for me. I didn’t touch a club for seven years. It had been so long since I won. I thank the Lord for saving my life.” Sauers said at the trophy presentation on the 18th green. Later, he would reveal how appropriate a winner he truly was by thanking Jack Nicklaus and calling him his mentor of sorts.
"He’s my idol,” Sauers said. I learned the game reading his book Golf My Way. So that’s why he’s kind of my mentor. He is for all of us pros.”
If that didn’t seem poetic enough, consider that Sauers, a native of Savannah, Georgia, perhaps had a little Scioto mystique working in his favor. The Club had had nothing but American winners in its history, including the U.S. Ryder Cup team in 1931. Jimenez, who had played so beautifully, bogeyed the last two holes for 71 and a 278 total, tied with Mayfair for second place. It’s golf. But, damn it, I wanted to win,” he said.
And if all this didn’t register on the shiver meter, consider this: In the four USGA stroke-play events at Scioto, the winner triumphed by a single stroke. Indeed. Golf at Scioto, where not only do Americans flourish, but they do so by the thinnest of margins. In the four USGA stroke-play events at the Donald Ross-designed layout, all four winners triumphed by one shot.