Rain showers soften greens and entice professional golfers to fire at pins, producing lower scores, but USGA and Oak Tree National officials don’t anticipate Wednesday morning’s rain showers will dramatically lower first-round scores Thursday at the U.S. Senior Open.
Oak Tree received slightly less than one inch of rain (.91), much less than parts of the Oklahoma City metro area which received more than three inches.
“There’s a natural area for water to drain off east to west down the middle of the course where the creek runs through it,” said Oak Tree co-owner Everett Dobson. “With the sun coming out (Wednesday), it was drying up well by the end of the day.
“It’s supposed to get hot and windy for the weekend, so everyone will have forgotten about the rain we had on Wednesday, I promise you.”
Jeff Hall, the USGA’s managing director for rules, is in charge of setting up the course. He’s maintained for several months that the USGA’s philosophy is firm and fast.
“We think the firmness will come back,” Hall said. “This golf course (already) was drying down very nicely (by the end of the day). We want firm and fast because we want players to have to think about what the golf ball is going to do when it gets on the ground.”
Oak Tree superintendent Josh Cook said the rain actually was a blessing after ideal weather the three months leading up to the tournament has produced a lush, green course Champions Tour players have raved about.
“We’ve been so dry and hot the past week I don’t think anyone will even notice we had some rain (Wednesday),” Cook said. “This is a course that wants to play fast, and it will play fast, which is why it’s a great place to host a championship.”
The biggest effect of Wednesday’s storms was likely seen by fans. Rain left parking areas on empty prairie fields muddy and squishy early in the day.
“The golf course is absolutely magnificent,” said USGA vice president Dan Burton. “The greens are just about perfect. We got a little rain, but they’ll be fine. Everything is ready to go.”
After Wednesday morning’s rain, everyone will be watching the skies with Thursday’s opening round. What will they see? According to the National Weather Service, there is a 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms overnight, but then, the day is expected to be mostly sunny with a high near 95 and heat indexes as high as 98. The wind will blow out of the south, but it won’t be as big a factor as it could be by the time the weekend is out. It is expected to blow 8 to 15 mph with gusts as high as 21 mph.
BEST PLACE TO WATCH
With temperatures expected to approach the mid-90s on Thursday, No. 4 is surrounded by several trees that will provide much-needed shade for fans. It’s also an interesting spot for spectators. Not only is the hole a 175-yard par 3 surrounded by water, but the location also gives fans a chance to watch players tee off on No. 5, a 454-yard, par 4.
GROUP TO WATCH
USGA officials put the three former Oak Tree champions in one group — Scott Verplank (1984 U.S. amateur champ); Jeff Sluman (1988 PGA champion) and Jay Haas (2006 Senior champion). Verplank, Sluman and Haas tee off at 1:52 p.m. on Hole No. 1 on Thursday and will go off at 8:07 a.m. on hole No. 10 Friday morning.
IF YOU DON’T WANT TO FIGHT THE CROWDS ...
Teeing off at 8:07 a.m. Thursday on No. 10 (and at 1:52 p.m. Friday on No. 1) will be Colin Montgomerie, Tom Lehman and Rocco Mediate. It’s a star-studded and fun-loving threesome that might not draw a huge gallery Thursday because of its early start.
WHAT TO EXPECT
With winds relatively quiet by Oklahoma standards, players wanting to push toward the top of the leaderboard will want as many red numbers as possible on the par 5s Thursday. Most notable could be No. 7. It’s a relatively short par 5 at 511 yards, but if the wind starts howling out of the south, it will be a crosswind on the east-west hole, making good scores difficult. But on Thursday, plenty of guys should be putting for eagle.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
Tom Lehman on whether there’s an art to controlling shots out of Oak Tree’s thick rough: “The black arts maybe can help you. Harry Potter possibly could help you.”
VOLUNTEER OF THE DAY
Neil Helms has been working the pitching green, an area far removed from the buzz of the driving range or the putting green, much less the activity on the course. But the Edmond resident considered himself the luckiest volunteer at the U.S. Senior Open. “Everybody’s really, really nice over here,” Helms said. “They kind of interact with us and say hi.” Helms’ job is to pick up balls from the green so that players can see their line, to make sure they have enough balls and to rake the sand traps. It has given him a close-up look at some of the best golfers on the planet. “Incredible,” he said.
LEAVE YOUR POODLE AT HOME
Unlike practice days when fans are allowed to bring many items onto the course, competition days are more restrictive. Here are some of the prohibited items:
No pets with the exception of service animals
No food or beverages with the exception of one unopened 16-ounce bottle of water per person
Because of the heat, spectators will be allowed to bring small chairs and umbrellas. Larger lawn chairs will be prohibited.
For a complete list of prohibited items, see the back of your ticket or www.2014ussenioropen.com.