» No. 1: In July 2008, professional caddie Fred Sanders was at a gas station en route to the Quad Cities.
A stranger approached him and said his car was out of gas. Could he have $5? Sanders gave it to him. A few days later, his boss, childhood friend Kenny Perry, won the John Deere Classic. Same thing happened six months later, en route to Phoenix. That week, Perry won the FBR Open.
Sanders stayed this weekend at Harrah's in Council Bluffs. Sunday morning a waitress at the bar was frantic. She'd lost $5.
“She was an older lady. You could tell it meant a lot to her. They were looking all over. I was sitting and watching the trauma and drama the whole time I was eating breakfast.”
Finally, Sanders opened his wallet and grabbed a five.
» No. 2: Just in case Michael Allen and Perry didn't realize they were playing in the last group of a major championship, all they had to do was look behind them. Within a minute of Allen and Perry holing out, two OCC groundskeepers grabbed the flagstick — just in case any fans got an idea for a souvenir. They did the same with the tee markers.
Those two groundskeepers, traveling in a cart, followed the final group all 18 holes.
» No. 3: Perry called his Sunday performance the best closing round he's played in 27 years as a tour pro. What was the difference? The flatstick.
“I felt like I could make it from anywhere out there, which is very unusual for me, because I'm usually not a good putter,” he said.
Perry birdied the par-5 second hole. But No. 3 is where he got hot. It's 230 yards downhill and Perry's approach stopped about 30 feet short. His putt broke about 6 feet. When it went in, Perry's first thought was “Game on.”
» No. 4: After following players around for four days and eavesdropping on as many conversations as possible, it's clear to me something is missing from golf broadcasts. Why can't players attach microphones to their bags — or their caddies?
In an era when sports leagues are constantly looking for ways to make the TV product better, it's time to give golf fans more access. I asked NBC analyst Gary Koch about the issue.
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Some guys wouldn't care a bit, he said. “I bet if you asked Rocco Mediate, he'd say, sure, put a mike on me, I don't care.”
But it would bother others, who want to protect strategy. (Ahem, Tiger.)
“The Champions Tour would be a much better place because it's probably a little less about competition and there's a little more emphasis on entertainment,” Koch said. “The regular tour, it's about the competition. ... I just don't see it happening there.”
My take: If Gregg Popovich can handle it during the NBA Finals, a player in the final group of a tournament surely can. You don't have to air everything live. Let the producers pick and choose what to broadcast the same way they do when miking up NBA coaches.
» No. 5: Beth Bowen tried to get things done around the house this week. She really did. But off her back deck, pro golfers kept walking by.
Bowen's house, which sits in the woods right of No. 5, is one of the few that overlooks Omaha Country Club. She and her husband had guests over all week. Sunday afternoon, all the men were on the course, though. It was just Beth and seven friends on the deck, yelling “Rocco!” (He waved).
“We figure this is way easier than standing in the sun,” Beth said.
Her only complaint: See that little tree between the deck and the back-right pin? Next time the Open comes to Omaha, she's making her husband cut it down.
» No. 6: Jeff Brehaut must have felt like the band that goes on stage after Springsteen. Late Sunday morning, there were two golfers practicing in front of the driving range grandstand: Brehaut and Fred Couples. When Freddie packed up and headed for No. 1 tee, half the people in the bleachers bolted, too.
Fans will remember a lot of great shots from the Senior Open. But there's nothing quite like watching Couples hit driver. On No. 10 tee, Andy Hunter of LaPlatte, Neb., waited for Couples to arrive.
“Once he leaves, I'll leave, too,” Hunter said.
After Freddie crushed it into the stratosphere, Hunter smiled: “He toed it a bit.”
» No. 7: Allen had a weekend to forget. But give the man credit, he cares about the little people.
Sunday morning driving into the OCC neighborhood, he stopped and picked up a volunteer who was walking. That 14-year-old, Edward Yuan, ended up being the standard bearer for the final pairing. After Allen finished, he stopped several times between the 18th green and the scorer's room to sign autographs. “That's what it's all about,” said one dad.
It wasn't just Allen. Omahan Kate Tomka, battling allergies, sneezed as the final group walked down the sixth fairway Sunday. “Bless you,” said Allen's caddie from 40 yards away.
“That's gonna be my favorite memory of the tournament,” Tomka said.
One hole later, the same caddie, Michael Maroney, walked past fans at No. 7 and said, “Thanks for coming out.”
» No. 8: Caddies everywhere were saying the same thing Sunday: OCC is the hardest course they've ever walked. That includes Castle Pines outside Denver, Kapalua in Maui, even Augusta National.
“We made the mistake playing on Tuesday,” said Sanders, Perry's caddie. “It about killed us all. He was tired. I was dead. It took us a few days to get our energy back. That's why I think he struggled the first two days.”
Omaha native Troy Martin, who works for tour pro Steve Lowery, told Lowery walking up 18 they actually got lucky. Had there been a 100-degree day, “we would've had guys dropping,” he said.
» No. 9: One of the week's highlights was Fred Funk's interaction with the galleries. After his excellent tee shot on No. 5, a fan yelled, “If you make that putt, I got a beer for ya at the turn.”
Funk laughed — then missed the putt. Half an hour later, Funk watched Corey Pavin hit an extraordinarily low cut off No. 8 tee. After hitting a straight drive down the middle, Funk turned back to the crowd and said, “How does he do that?”
» No. 10: That was just the beginning of Pavin's magic. At No. 10, a brutal, uphill par 4, Mediate walked off the green after saving par and told a USGA official, “That's a heckuva hard second shot.”
Moments later, from 30 yards behind where Mediate drove the ball, Pavin hit hybrid through the narrow neck short of the green. It bounced up to 15 feet and he buried the putt. Pavin, whose average drive was 247 yards, told me Thursday if he could survive the long par 4s, he'd be OK.
Well, he played the eighth, 10th, 12th and 18th holes in 1 under for the week. Remarkable considering he hit fairway woods into almost every one.
Ironically, Pavin can blame the shortest par 4s for his third-place finish. On 1, 13, 15 and 17, he was 3 over for the week. Perry played those holes 5 under.
» No. 11: Alex Zillig, a 13-year-old from Omaha wearing a yellow Adidas T-shirt, was hanging out left of 16 green late Sunday morning when Willie Wood's tee shot — from 223 yards away — crashed into Zillig's right elbow. He shed a few tears. He eventually found an ice pack. But not before Wood signed a golf ball, “Sorry, Willie Wood.”
“I wasn't aiming at you,” Wood told him. “It's that bright shirt.”
» No. 12: Depending on your place on the leader board, one stroke in a golf tournament can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Do golfers ever think about it while on the course?
“All the time,” Wood said. “It's not a great thing to think of, but it does creep into your mind. Some boards give you the position where you are. So you know, if you birdie this last hole, you might finish top 10, which you know can add to some pretty serious change.
“My friends remind me when I bogey the last hole, 'Hey, that cost you a lot of money.' No kidding. Thanks a lot.”
Wood parred the last hole Sunday to finish 4 over. He made $14,827.
» No. 13: A great short par 4 has equal risk and reward. You saw it at the 290-yard 13th Sunday. The hole surrendered three eagles and 20 birdies. But the final two groups played it 2-over par.
Pavin laid up, hit a brilliant wedge but missed a short birdie putt. Funk hit driver just short, but couldn't get up and down. Perry hit hybrid pin high left, but also couldn't get up and down. Allen's hopes of a comeback disappeared when his drive landed on State Street. He re-teed and made double bogey.
» No. 14: Thomas Northup of Grand Island spent the weekend volunteering at No. 13. He called it the greatest thing he ever did. On Sunday, Gary Hallberg hit his drive left of the green into the gnarly rough. With the pin tucked left, he had no shot.
“Got any advice?” he asked the fans nearby.
Your only chance is to hit the flagstick, Northup replied.
Hallberg listened — sort of. His flop shot hit the actual flag and dropped to a few feet, where he tapped in for birdie.
You think the amateurs you play with on a regular basis are good players, Northup said.
“These guys make 'em look like ridiculous idiots.”
» No. 15: For years, Mike Blair of Omaha attended the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. He told his wife, Sherry, you have to show up early and stake out your position.
So on Sunday morning at 8 a.m., the Blairs showed up and staked out a spot next to 16 green. They waited 2½ hours for a single golfer. They saw long birdie putts by Steve Elkington and Tom Kite. They saw Colin Montgomerie's bogey from the bunker.
“This has been a killer for some people,” Sherry said.
After eight hours, the final pairing came down the hill. Perry, 7 under on the day, left his birdie putt about 3 inches short. When Perry left, the Blairs packed up. Headed to 18? Nope. Home, she said.
» No. 16: Perry is certainly giving Couples something to think about.
Couples is this year's Presidents Cup captain. And the host site is Muirfield Village, where Perry has won three times.
After watching Perry win back-to-back majors on the Champions Tour, shouldn't he be considered? I asked Perry.
“Freddy won't pick me, even though I have won three Memorials.” Perry said. “You need to tell him that. I'm always in his ear. I say 'Hey, Freddy, I'm available if you need me.'
“But I think that would put a lot of pressure on him, to pick a Senior Tour guy.”
» No. 17: Perry won't be traveling to Scotland this week for the British Open. He won't be playing in the Senior British a week later. He's played eight of the past nine weeks, he said.
“I'm on vacation. Right now,” he said.
He intends to spend a little time drag-racing his new COPO Camaro.
“They only made 69 of them last year and 67 of them this year,” Perry said. “I actually knew the right people to where I could get my hands on one, where I could buy one.”
While Tiger and Rory are battling Muirfield Friday, Perry will be picking up his new ride. It's such a contrast from golf, Perry said. But he loves to drag race.
“I like to go 200 miles an hour in a quarter of a mile. ... When you're in a race car running that hard, it scares the life out of you.”
» No. 18: When Troy Martin heard the news that the U.S. Senior Open was coming to his hometown, he thought immediately of his father.
Hopefully, Troy thought, we'll both be there, he as a caddie, Dad as a fan.
But that was 2008, before Jack Martin's heart problems escalated. He isn't fit to walk golf courses anymore and Troy knew it.
Sunday the team of Steve Lowery and Martin finished 50th, nothing to write home about. But Martin called it one of the best weeks of his life. He organized the Caddy-Am last weekend at Deer Creek, raising money for two sick girls. Wednesday night he took Lowery and Mark Calcavecchia to the Drover for a steak. But his lasting image is Friday afternoon.
Lowery was 2-under, one shot off the lead, when he drove the ball in the fairway bunker at No. 4. Martin handed him an 8-iron and Lowery stuffed the ball a foot from the hole. The crowd cheered.
That's when Martin looked to his right and saw an old man in a cart. Dad watched two pars and two birdies, then headed back to the air-conditioned clubhouse. But not before Troy waved to him.
“That was my highlight.”