Many aspects of the Omaha Country Club scream U.S. Open — the rough, the greens, the galleries.
Especially the rough. And it's not the U.S. Open that starts Thursday, but the U.S. Senior Open.
“The rough is very penal out there. It's chipout rough,” Kenny Perry said. “It's definitely set up for ... it's got definitely a U.S. Open feel, with the greens as small as they are and undulating.”
Bernhard Langer was using superlatives to describe Easter egg hunting in the 4-inch high Kentucky bluegrass and fescue.
“The rough is as bad as I've seen it anywhere in the world. Worse than anywhere in the world, I mean,” the two-time Masters champion said. “Sometimes we couldn't see the ball from 3 feet away. You know it went right in here, and you're looking, and you're walking from here to there, and you can't see the ball. That tells you how much it's sitting down.
“I've hit a couple of shots out of there, and some of the lies, I couldn't move it more than 25, 30 yards, hitting it as hard as I can. So it's just very demanding off the tee.”
It's also very demanding on and around Omaha Country Club's tiny greens, every one elevated on a par 4 or 5, full of subtle breaks, with gnarly rough surrounding them.
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“If it firms up, these greens don't like long clubs,” Rocco Mediate said. “They get very angry if you try to hit 3-irons to them.”
Have we yet mentioned the course's hills?
“I told somebody yesterday this is probably the hardest walking course I've ever been on,” Perry said. “I played the (PGA) Tour 27 years and a couple of years out here, and it's the hilliest.”
The galleries are expected to be the largest at any U.S. Senior Open since Des Moines in 1999.
“They should be here for this,” Mediate said. “If I had my choice and I was a spectator, would I want to go watch the other guys, or would I want to go watch my heroes? I'm picking heroes every time.
“You go watch Mr. (Tom) Watson play or Mr. (Hale) Irwin play, they haven't lost a lot. If you look at these guys, I would watch them every single day of the week if I had my choice. I actually do sometimes.
“They're the best that ever walked on grass that played golf still.”
Who's going to win, and with what score? Not losing a drop of ice cream in Tuesday's heat was easier than answering those questions.
“The way this course is playing, and the difficulty of it, under par will be a very good score over the four days,” Colin Montgomerie said. “There's a more physical element that comes into the Senior Open than it does in the regular U.S. Open, and four rounds around here will play its part, no question.
“Some of the guys 55 to 60 will be glad that the 72nd hole is upon them, and nearer 50, I'll be glad alongside them.”
Gary Koch, an NBC Sports golf analyst who's also playing in the tournament, is among those who project 8 under as a target score.
“There's some guys out here who play some very, very good golf,” Koch said. “I played with Bernhard Langer a couple times earlier this week and he's playing very well. Tom Lehman is a great ball striker. It's going to favor a guy like that, with the rough the way it is and a premium on hitting the ball in the fairway.”
Langer, Couples and Mediate also would take four rounds of 2-under 68.
“It all depends on the wind, I suppose, but even when there's no wind, I can't see too many 64s, 65s out here,” Langer said. “Even par is never a bad score in a U.S. Open or Senior Open.
“If somebody gets really hot because the greens might not get to the speed where they might want them, there might be a chance that a couple of guys finish under par, maybe 6 to 8 under. I'm not sure. I'm not a prophet.”
Couples guessed that 8 under “probably won't win.”
“but I'll take it right now,” he said, “and I'll sit in my room and watch TV for four days.
“I think there may be somebody 7 or 8 under after the first two rounds, but it's a lot like some of the old courses, like Westchester. Guys would shoot 63, 68, and then they'd shoot 70, 71 on the weekend and still win. This is that kind of course. It's going to toughen up. But 8 under is very good.”
Said Mediate: “I don't have any idea how to handicap this thing, but I would say I would take 2 under a day and just sit in the clubhouse and laugh. If the greens firm up a teeny-weeny bit, then we've got a ballgame.”
What could stymie many hopes this week is the 10th hole, which is a par 4 instead of a par 5. The United States Golf Association had OCC remove a left greenside bunker when it requested the change to give the field of 156 a fighting chance for par.
“Ten is going to change the face of this golf tournament, I assure you, either good or bad, because they're going to play that tee on top, it looks like, the whole time,” Mediate said. “It's downhill. So you get a 3-wood, and then you have 215 to the hole, and that green doesn't like hybrids as a par 4.”
Koch, the NBC analyst, said it's one of the hardest par 4s he's tackled.
“It's very difficult to figure out how to play it,” he said. “If you make two 4s and two 5s there (for the week), you're probably even with everybody in the field.”
The 10th begins a back nine that includes two short par 4s and a par 5 that could see some eagles.
“With the elevation change and the little valleys here and there,” the USGA's Jeff Hall said, “I know we're going to hear some wonderful roars.
“There's going to be just some great opportunities on the back nine. There's some very stern holes and some where you can catch up ... but can lose ground, as well.”