Inside the Ropes at the U.S. Senior Open – From a Caddie’s Perspective
Staff Note: Mark Gambaiana, a member of the Iowa Golf Association Foundation Board, will be sending periodic reports this week from his experience as a caddie at the 40th U.S. Senior Open set for June 27-30, at the University of Notre Dame’s Warren Golf Course.
Friday, June 28
Iowans Mike McCoy and Jay Gregory battled valiantly but fell just short in a quest to play the weekend at the 40th U.S. Senior Open at the University of Notre Dame’s Warren Golf Course Friday. McCoy fired his second consecutive 71 to post a two-over par 142. Exactly 60 players shot 141 or better to make the cut as the USGA trimmed the 156-player field to the low 60 and ties.
McCoy birdied the 404 yard par-4 ninth hole…his 18th of the day but fell short by the narrowest of margins. He was the low amateur for the tournament. McCoy’s round of 71 Thursday was spiced by a hole-out for eagle on the par-4 13th hole. Gregory shot a pair of 72’s to post a 144 and finish in a tie for 81st. He was tied for the second lowest amateur score.
A star-studded leaderboard will produce an exciting weekend finish. Steve Stricker backed up an opening round 62 with a 64 Friday for an unheard of U.S. Open two-day total of 14-under par 126. Right behind are Jerry Kelly, David Toms and Retief Goosen.
A rough start for my player, Roger Rowland of Jacksonville, FL proved too much to overcome as he shot a second day 75 for two-day total of 146. Being inside the ropes was a magnificent experience for yours truly. I’ve followed these players throughout their careers and having a front row seat only deepened my appreciation for their playing ability. There’s such a fine line that separates the pack.
Wednesday, June 26
Final practice preparations are wrapping up as the 40th U.S. Senior Open begins Thursday morning at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday’s practice round provided an wonderful illustration of the melting pot of players assembled to compete for this championship. Our foursome included a pair of golf celebrities and a pair of journeymen who have toiled for years on the mini and satellite tours.
Two-time U.S. Open champ Retief Goosen joined our group and put on an impressive display of shotmaking. Fresh off a playoff loss to Jerry Kelly in last week’s American Family Insurance Championship, Goosen has to be considered one of the favorites this week. His length, accuracy and distance control were spectacular. Another newly minted 50-year old, Gary Nicklaus, showed good form with his 18-year old son, G.T., on the bag. Son of the golf legend, Gary played three years on the PGA Tour and has competed in a handful of 2019 Champions Tour events via sponsor exemptions, including the Principal Charity Classic. Bowling Green, KY resident David Plumb rounded out the group. Like my player, Roger Rowland, David spent a handful of years on the Nike Tour but the majority of his career on mini tours.
I connected with Mike McCoy (pictured right) Wednesday morning as he was warming up on the range. Mike plays at 9:31 a.m. Thursday morning with Tom Werkmeister of Grandville, MI and Kevin King of Bluffton, SC.
I have a new appreciation for the work of caddies. It seems glamorous from the perimeter (and it is) but it’s also hard work and you have to hustle, especially between shots. Thank goodness the Warren Golf Course is relatively flat and not much distance between greens and tees. It’s also great to see how the status of caddies has elevated over the years. There’s an air conditioned tent for caddies, meals and refreshments provided and a wellness center right next door. The caddies of yesteryear didn’t enjoy such creature comforts.
Tuesday, June 25
Activity at the U.S. Senior Open moved into high gear Tuesday as the 156-player field took advantage of beautiful weather for a full day of practice rounds. Players found the 6,943 yard, Par 70 Warren Golf Course a stern test. The layout features small, contoured and well protected greens which should produce an exciting championship. The 450 yard par 4 third hole, the 492 yard par 4 fourth hole and the 239 yard par 3 fifth hole provide an early round challenge.
There are so many distinguishing aspects of this tournament – you can see the game’s legends of yesteryear…Watson, Langer, Jimenez, Singh…hitting balls on the range next to amateurs and journeyman professionals who earned their spot through open qualifying.
Lineville, Iowa’s Jay Gregory (pictured right) had a great thrill today, playing a practice round with Tom Watson and Stephen Ames. A Hamilton, MO native (hometown of JC Penney) Gregory played college golf at William Jewell and is the pride of Lineville, population 217, which sits on the Missouri border.
Watson, still spry at age 69, is joined in the super senior category by veteran Dick Mast, who also belies his age at 68.
Tomorrow I hope to check in with Iowa’s other representative, Mike McCoy.
Monday, June 24
Twenty-eight years ago this summer, I caddied for a budding young golf professional from Florida at the 1991 Ben Hogan Dakota Dunes Open in Sioux City. History will repeat itself this week as I will again caddie for Roger Rowland, this time at the 2019 U.S. Senior Open.
Roger is the ultimate golf journeyman, having persevered on multiple golf tours over three decades as a golf professional to get to this point – qualifying for his first major championship. His career began with moderate success on the Ben Hogan and Nike Tours in the 1990’s, including 117 events played, 61 cuts made, a pair of runner-up finishes and a high finish of 33rd on the money list. Later he played on the Tommy Armour Tour, NGA Hooters Tour, Florida Golf Association Tour and now competes on the Sunbelt Senior Tour, a place where senior professionals keep their games sharp while making the difficult attempt to gain status on the Champions Tour. In all, Roger has won more than 80 mini-tour events.
Last year, Roger made a strong showing at the PGA Champions Tour Qualifying School by finishing in a tie for 13th. Only the top five players earn exempt status however, and the rest are relegated to Monday qualifying where fields of anywhere from 30 to 70 players vie for four spots. He has played the sum total of one Champions Tour event, that being the 2018 SAS Championship where he emerged from the Monday qualifier and finished in a tie for 43rd.
This week, Roger is hoping his determination and persistence will parlay into more status on the Champions Tour. We play at 3:06 p.m. Thursday and 9:31 a.m. Friday.
Iowa golf will have a distinct flavor at the U.S. Senior Open as Mike McCoy of Norwalk and Jay Gregory of Lineville are among 20 amateurs in the 156-player field at the U.S. Senior Open. McCoy, a veteran of USGA Championships, punched his ticket into the field by his participation in the 2015 Walker Cup competition while Gregory may have been the last player into the field when he emerged from a playoff for the final spot at the last qualifier held on June 11 at the Golf Club at Creekmoor in Raytown, MO.
McCoy plays at 9:31 a.m. (all times Eastern) on Thursday and 3:06 p.m. Friday while Gregory steps on the tee at 1:11 p.m. Thursday afternoon and 7:46 a.m. Friday morning. All players will play 18 holes of stroke play June 27-28 after which the field will be reduced to the low 60 scores and ties for weekend competition.