Ten things/players to watch Thursday at Del Paso Country Club as the first round of the U.S. Senior Open signals national championship golf in Sacramento for the first time in 33 years:
The expected highs of 104 degrees Thursday and 100 Friday are a concern. Del Paso’s rye grass fairways are sensitive to extreme heat, probably necessitating more water and softer conditions than the United States Golf Association would like.
The spectators will suffer, too. But the players won’t mind. Their 50-and-older muscles loosen up when it gets hot, they say, and the ball travels farther, which they like very much.
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“You get it below 80 degrees and we start putting our cashmeres on,” Tom Watson said.
With every player having a morning and afternoon tee time in the first two rounds, no one should have an advantage.
The best thing that could happen this weekend is for Sacramento’s Kevin Sutherland to be in contention. That’s more likely than not, despite the enormous expectations. A good first round would go a long way.
The fan experience
Del Paso is no Chambers Bay. Spectators will get an up-close look at the action without having to be a billy goat or sit in a grandstand somewhere on a hillside way over yonder like last week at the U.S. Open in Washington.
Nos. 5, 14 and 17 are longer than 215 yards. No. 17, in particular, is a bear. “A drivable par-3,” one pro said of the 225-yard, all-carry-over-water hole.
Brutally long and reachable par-4s
If Nos. 3 and 16 play to their full length … wow! Let’s hope the USGA places tees to entice players to attempt to drive the greens at Nos. 9 and 10.
Players spent the most practice-round time Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday trying to figure it out. Can you say “flopodopolous?”
“It’s the most severe rough I’ve seen in a very, very long time,” said Bernhard Langer.
Of the 109 amateurs playing in the U.S. Senior Open over the past four years, six have made the cut with the best finish a tie for 26th. Players with big golf bags almost always beat players with small bags, so it’s probably best not to get too emotionally invested.
This will be the third consecutive week defending champion Colin Montgomerie has played in a major. He was the only player older than 50 to make the cut last week in the U.S. Open.
“I like the way this course sets up, that you have to hit the fairways, you hit the greens, you two-putt, you walk off to the next hole and you’re gaining on the field every hole,” Montgomerie said.
It will be between 5 and 10 under par, a survey of pros suggests. The championship course rating is 74.9 and the slope is 147. There are tough holes and “getable” holes, but until tee locations are known, it’s tough to get more specific.
Lee Janzen took a swing, though: “How about 9 under, wins by three. Eleven guys under par.”
Most likely winner
Not one player asked didn’t mention Kenny Perry in his top three because of his ability to drive long and accurately.
Steve Pajak: (916) 326-5526.