If there was only one tournament Bob Niger could play in this year, he said it would be the U.S. Senior Open.
A national championship in his hometown. In front of family and friends. At a familiar course.
Niger earned his spot last week, shooting a 2-under-par 69 at Bent Creek Golf Club in Eden Prairie, Minn., to nab the site’s single berth by one shot. The El Dorado Hills resident will be in the field of 156 on June 25-28 at Del Paso Country Club.
“I’ve had my eye on this one for the last year,” he said. “I was trying not to put too much pressure on myself.”
It will be Niger’s third Senior Open and seventh United States Golf Association event.
The Minnesota site was geographically compatible with his attempt to qualify for the Principal Charity Classic, this week’s Champions Tour event in Des Moines, Iowa.
“And it’s always good to get out of California to qualify,” he said, saying the competition out West typically is tougher.
Niger, five years into his quest to gain traction on the Champions Tour, is 0 for 6 in 2015 tournament qualifying attempts. But he’s buoyed by his familiarity with Del Paso – he estimates he will have played the course 20 times before the championship.
He wasn’t the only recent qualifier to call Del Paso to set practice-round tee times.
Mike Tucker and Brent Studer were typical. Tucker, the head pro at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, and Studer, the head pro at Mettedeconk National in Jackson, N.J., each have club events the Monday and Tuesday of championship week, so they arranged to come out early since they won’t get back to Sacramento until the Wednesday before play begins.
“Most of the calls have been either from club pros or directors of golf or teaching professionals who have qualified for the first time and are giddy as can be,” said Mike Green, Del Paso’s head pro.
At Olympic Club in San Francisco on Monday, Michael Miles of Huntington Beach and decorated Northern California amateur Randy Haag of Orinda earned the two qualifying berths.
Other pros with name recognition who qualified over the past week: Jay Delsing, Skip Kendall, R.W. Eaks, Guy Boros, Grant Waite and Neal Lancaster.
▪ About 2,000 of the expected 2,600 championship volunteers received training over the weekend at Mira Loma High School.
▪ It will take an estimated 150,000 man-hours to build the grandstands and assorted tents, and that doesn’t count dismantling. The construction, which began April 1, is about 70 percent complete. All 3,500 grandstand seats are in place.
He’s a Bradshaw ace
Val Cassidy’s lifetime best hole-by-hole aggregate score at Bradshaw Ranch is an 11.
That’s the product of seven aces and two birdies on the par-27 executive course. The only Bradshaw holes Cassidy hasn’t aced are the relatively benign 110-yard fourth and No. 7, which plays between 200 and 225 yards as the course’s toughest.
“You play the game always watching where your ball is going,” said Cassidy, 59, a Sacramento Bee customer service clerk with a 17.3 handicap index. “When you suddenly don’t see it anymore, there’s nothing like it.”
Cassidy said he has “12 or 13, I try to count them” aces, all at Bradshaw over 25 years. The total is irrelevant to his mission of acing each of the course’s holes.
He’s come close several times on No. 4, once flying his ball into the hole only to have it bounce out. He’s come within 2 feet a couple of times on No. 7.
He used to play the course four or five times a week but is down to once a month, yet his goal remains. His advice for those players still lacking in the hole-in-one department?
“Commit to the shot and something good will happen,” he said.
▪ Granite Bay High School will be among six schools competing Wednesday in the CIF Boys State Championship at Poppy Hills. Jeffrey Inouye-Wong, Bryan Baumgarten, Riley Sullivan, Mason Troike, Drake Mendenhall and Ryder Sanders will tee it up for the Grizzles against Bellarmine of San Jose and Foothill of Pleasanton from the north and Torrey Pines, Loyola of Los Angeles and Westlake from the south.
▪ A team sudden-death playoff for the 15th and final qualifying spot into the final round of stroke play Monday at the NCAA Division I men’s championship had a Sacramento flavor. Junior Austin Smotherman (Loomis/Del Oro) hit a 4-iron from 225 yards to within 8 feet on the extra hole, and his par helped SMU advance past Washington when sophomore Corey Pereira (Cameron Park/Ponderosa) missed a 4-foot par putt.