SPORTS: Port Angeles native eliminated early from U.S. Senior Open

I WONDER AT what age Port Angeles native Jerry Johnson’s kids will tire of hearing dad tell tales about his play at the 2010 U.S. Senior Open.

Despite missing the cut by a scant three shots, Johnson racked up stories that will last a long time.

His drive Thursday on Sahalee Country Club’s first hole kicked off the tournament.

His Thursday went south after the first few holes, ending up with an 11-over-par 81 on the first day.

Johnson wasn’t alone in struggling the first day, with the average score a 77 and just eight rounds out of 155 finishing under par.

He rebounded nicely in Friday’s round with a two-over 72, which included three birdies.

The course wasn’t playing much easier, yielding an average score of 76.4 on Friday. The number of players under par through Friday also dropped from eight to just four.

That number was at two after Saturday’s third round.

The improvement can be found in his greens in regulation doubling from 5-of-18 on Thursday to 10-of-18 on Friday.

You can’t be asked to dance if you aren’t on the dance floor.

He did miss an eagle opportunity on his back nine Friday, and there were a few other putts I’m sure Johnson would love a second chance at.

Such is the game.

Before the tournament, the United States Golf Association cut two strokes off the course’s regular par 72 layout, converting the sixth and 18th hole into par-4s.

Johnson parred both holes both days.

If the USGA hadn’t cut the two strokes and the cut line remained the same, Johnson would have played on the weekend.

Yes, making it to Saturday and Sunday and taking home a paycheck would have been ideal.

Johnson is not a touring pro, he’s a teaching pro, helping disadvantaged youth and special needs children access the game with First Tee of Olympia.

These are kids who can use a sport like golf to develop in a positive manner and uncover social connections and role modeling the game can provide.

The competitor in him will always be able to look back at competing at one of the most prestigious golf events in the country in his home state with family and friends able to follow him around and cheer him on.

He can always point to finishing better than two-time Masters champ Ben Crenshaw and Masters and U.S. Open winner Fuzzy Zoeller.

Hale Irwin didn’t make the cut, nor did Mark O’Meara.

And, of course, Johnson will remember his mad-cap scramble through the Willamette Valley to replace his non-conforming clubs and the grind he put in over the last three holes to keep his lead and qualify for the open.

Peninsula volunteers

I heard from two U.S. Senior Open volunteers from the North Olympic Peninsula.

Cedars at Dungeness golfer Jay Howard was slotted as an evacuation driver.

His duties were to “drive players, caddies, officials and scoring volunteers from course to clubhouse during a suspension of play.”

This is typically a position that gets more play in areas with significant thunderstorm potential or if downpours begin and force suspension of play.

Friday’s marine layer-induced fog delay was considered a non-dangerous situation so players could pause their round or finish the hole and stay and practice putting and chipping.

“The delay was to insure similar playing conditions for all players in the tournament,” USGA spokesman Pete Kowalski said.

“It would obviously be unfair if some golfers could see their targets and others couldn’t.”

This was Howard’s second stint volunteering for the USGA. He also helped out at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.

My thanks to his wife Gail for providing me with the information.

Lucky 13

Another Peninsula resident, SunLand member Fred Smith, marshaled the 13th hole for the first three days of the week.

Smith traveled as a fan to the U.S. Open at Bethpage State Park last year.

He spent a good sum on the trip only to have the “opportunity to stand behind a couple dozen people trying to see anything.”

I feel his pain.

Thanks to my media pass I moved from the scrum of folks packed around the practice green watching Freddie Couples, to right next to his caddie, Joe LaCava, and about five feet from Boom Boom himself.

That was pretty neat.

And if you are in Bellevue anytime soon, LaCava recommends Palomino for dinner and drinks.

Smith enjoyed his access, contrasting his experience as a fan with his three days as a marshal at Sahalee.

“As a marshal, you work inside the ropes, with no one obstructing your view, being close to the players, and when you are not working your shift, watching the rest of the play,” Smith said.

“Was it worth it? Absolutely!

“The only way to see a tournament. In fact, in the future, I play on volunteering my wife also in order to take her on vacation. “

Fred recounted some other stories that I will save for Wednesday’s column.

Course notes

What really leaped out at me was the fluidity of these players’ swings.

Some random observations from my day at the course:

• Size differences: No cookie cutter molds here. All sorts of body types are represented: short, tall, thin and those with a little more to love.

• Ball flight: You get some guys that hit moon shot drives and approaches, 70 or 80 feet in the air.

Then you get guys like Ryder Cup Captain Corey Pavin hitting low punch shots nearly every time.

• Fluid swings: Perfect motion and (for them) completely repeatable time after time.

I followed the leader of the tournament after two days, Bernhard Langer, for his back nine on Friday.

He was like a expertly whittled piece of wood, just smooth.

• Television production element: Every tee box and green has a microphone.

If a hole lacked a camera tower, each fairway had a television representative with microphone handy to catch anything important.

Carts would regularly pass with cameramen shuttling along to different holes, and there are power lines in many places along the course, including along the ropes that line each fairway.

It was nothing that really takes anything away from the course, though.

• Media center: The most important thing for any member of the media: free food and drinks.

The spread was solid with a cold cut tray, pesto chicken pasta, cookies, nice raspberry chocolate brownies, cold water, coffee and soda and the piece de resistance: ICE CREAM bars.

The ice cream bars were a popular choice for media members, caddies and even golfers.

I saw more than one player walk onto the 10th tee box chomping on a chocolate-covered ice cream bar.

This jibes with what I saw Thursday night while driving in Wallingford; lines out the door of two establishments across the street from each other.

Were patrons getting an early start on their weekends with a beer? Nope, both places sell gelato and Italian ice. Can’t fight the ice cream craving.

And yes, I munched one while trying to find my car on the vast expanses of Sahalee’s East course.

Yes, I drove my car on a fairway. That was fun.

• USGA presence: Lots of navy blue blazers and sweaters out on the course.

This includes a member of the USGA’s Rules Committee walking the course with the players and watching every stroke like a hawk.

• Volunteers and staffers aplenty: So many red-shirted volunteers!

They were stationed everywhere on the course and were very pleasant and accommodating.

Concession stands were also well-stocked with workers to deal with the announced Friday attendance of more than 26,000.

Pebble Beach hosted 37,500 each day for this year’s U.S. Open, so I am guessing the USGA is going to be very pleased with the attendance numbers for this event.

I hope it leads to a yearly PGA Tour stop.

The attendance proves the fan base exists and the weather in late July and August in the Puget Sound area is perfect for a week’s break in a tour schedule dominated by stops on the East Coast and Midwest.


Michael Carman is the golf columnist for the Peninsula Daily News. His column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at 360-417-3527 or at pdngolf@gmail.

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