There’s something about Sundays and U.S. Opens for Neal Lancaster.
In 1995, Lancaster became the first player in the 100-year history of the U.S. Open to record a 29 for nine holes during the final round. He finished with a 65 and vaulted from 46th to fourth place. He recorded another 29 on the back nine at the 1996 U.S. Open during the second round.
And Sunday at Del Paso Country Club, Lancaster recorded just the 19th hole in one in U.S. Senior Open history on the par-3, 169-yard second hole. His 7-iron landed directly in the hole and hit with such force that once his playing partner, Scott Simpson, putted out, the USGA moved the hole two feet to the left.
“I’ve had two 29s in the two U.S. Opens I played, and then my first Senior, (I) have a hole in one on Sunday,” said Lancaster, who shot a 3-under-par 67 to tie for 33rd at 283. “Yup, there’s something about Sundays in the U.S. Open. I love them.”
Lancaster, who had a 7:48 a.m. start time, said he was barely awake and grabbed the 7-iron without much thought or deliberation with his caddie, Chris Hockaday.
“I hadn’t hit many good irons all week, and just my caddie and (I) were like, ‘Oh, 7 or 8. I’ll just hit the 7,’ and I hit it,” Lancaster said. “It flew right in the front, right in the hole. We couldn’t believe it stayed in. They had to move the hole, and we just moved on through.”
Now, he owes the field a round of drinks, which doesn’t seem fair since winner Jeff Maggert pocketed $675,000.
“A couple groups behind (were) telling me not to leave, so I’m trying to get out of here real quick,” Lancaster said in his thick North Carolinian drawl. “They’ve got that thing backwards. I’ve always thought, if you make a hole in one, they ought to buy you drinks all day.”
Waite happy with tie for third
New Zealand native Grant Waite played in his first U.S. Senior Open, having turned 50 last August. He started the final round one shot back of co-leaders Jeff Maggert and Bernhard Langer and shot a 3-under 67 to tie for third with Langer (68).
“I came here, liked the golf course, liked everything about it,” Waite said. “So for me, this tournament – emotionally, mentally, the preparation, my game, handling some adversity today – I’m going to take that as a win for me, personally. It’s just not a win in holding a trophy.”
Waite won the 1993 Kemper Open for his only victory on the PGA Tour. He trailed Tiger Woods by a stroke on the final hole at the 2000 Canadian Open and had a chance for an eagle. But Woods hit a 6-iron out of a fairway bunker that flew 220 yards over trees and water. The ball hit the green and rolled just off the back fringe, and Woods made a short chip and birdied to slam the door on Waite.
That fairway bunker shot is considered by many to be Woods’ best shot in a non-major, and Waite never recovered. He struggled on the PGA Tour and dropped to the Web.com Tour in 2005, where he never finished better than a tie for third.
Waite also had a chance to get to know Sacramento a little bit, having stayed in a downtown hotel.
“We went to the local restaurants downtown every night and enjoyed ourselves,” Waite said. “I just kind of experienced the culture. I’ve never been to Sacramento. But judging by what’s going on in this area, this is just a wonderful place. In the summertime, the weather’s great. The local facilities and infrastructure (are) fantastic. People came out to support the tournament. I think it would be just a wonderful place to come and play golf.”
Hale Irwin could have started the final round at 7 over but suffered a two-stroke penalty on No. 16 Friday for violating the one-ball condition rule. USGA championship rules dictate that players must use the same brand and type of ball throughout a round.
Irwin plunked a ball into the water on No. 16 and was handed another type of TaylorMade ball by his caddie, John Venn. It wasn’t until Irwin later went to mark his ball on the green that he noticed the rare error. He notified his playing partners and a rules official, and suffered the penalty.
The last time the U.S. Senior Open was held in California was 1998 at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, and Irwin edged Vicente Fernandez by one stroke to become the seventh player to win the U.S. Open and the U.S. Senior Open.
Irwin, 70, finished 16-over (296) Sunday for 70th place. He missed the U.S. Senior Open cut last year in Edmond, Okla., but has made the cut in 16 of his 20 starts in the tournament.
Irwin trails only Jack Nicklaus for the most Senior major titles. Nicklaus has eight majors, with his last coming in the 1996 Tradition. Irwin has seven, most recently in the 2004 Senior PGA.
Tow Watson is next with six, and Langer has five. Langer won his last major two weeks ago at the Senior Players Championship. Maggert now has two senior majors. He won the Regions Tradition in May in a one-hole playoff over Sacramento’s Kevin Sutherland.
Thin the herd
Twenty-seven amateurs teed off in the U.S. Senior Open on Thursday. Just three made the cut: Mike McCoy, Dave Ryan and Mike Finster.
McCoy, an insurance executive from Des Moines, Iowa, shot a 69 Sunday to tie for 26th (282). A double bogey on 18 cost him the lowest 72-hole score by an amateur in the 36-year history of the U.S. Senior Open, but he did medal as the low amateur in consecutive Senior Opens.
“I didn’t know that,” McCoy said of the near-record. “I might have tried to go for it from that fairway bunker on 18, but I’d have made 6.”
Finster finished next to last, with a 3-over 73 Sunday (297). That was three total strokes better than Ryan, who shot an 11-over 81 Sunday.
Mark Billingsley is a freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com or @editorwriter001.