LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Olin Browne was a part of the United States’ stirring victory over Europe in the 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla Golf Club. Yet something was lacking, because he never touched his clubs.
As an assistant to captain Paul Azinger, Browne loved the strategy, intrigue and emotion of being behind the scenes of the Americans’ 16 1/2-11 1/2 victory.
This week, he’s getting a taste of what it’s like to be on the front lines as a competitor.
Browne followed an opening 4-under 68 with a 70 on Friday to get into contention in the Senior PGA Championship at the Jack Nicklaus-designed course.
“I didn’t hit a shot that week, even though I brought my clubs,” he said about the Ryder Cup victory, which was capped by a raucous, champagne-fueled celebration at the clubhouse.
It wasn’t just the golf that week that made it special for Browne, a 52-year-old who went to Occidental and now lives in Hobe Sound, Fla.
“When we went down to the pep rally the night before, I mean it was just like going to a football game,” he said of the red, white and blue-themed party downtown before the start of the matches. “It was one of my fondest memories in golf.”
Browne has won three times on the PGA Tour and four times on the Nationwide, but is seeking his first Champions Tour victory since reaching age 50 early in the 2009 season.
Nothing he has ever done before would compare to recreating even a piece of what took place at Valhalla three years ago.
“It’s staggering. It was a really entertaining week,” he said. “I know the fans had a great time and I know the team really enjoyed it as well.”
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QUOTE OF THE DAY: Nick Price on the 50-degree temperatures that greeted the 50-plus-year-old players on Friday morning: “Us old guys, we don’t like the cold weather too much. We need WD-40 or something in our drinks to get us going.”
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GRUMPY OLD MEN: Not even the fittest of athletes would be able to scale the steep hills and muddy inclines at Valhalla Golf Club for 72 holes without an ache or a pain. Imagine what it’s like for senior players, some of whom have undergone hip or knee replacements or who because of the torsion of swinging a club have a history of back trouble.
In addition to a strong field, a difficult course, the weather and the pressure, the winner will have to overcome the weariness that comes with walking several grueling miles a day.
“I’m tired. My feet are killing me,” said Mark Calcavecchia, who has rounds of 72 and 69 to get to 3-under 141. “There’s some tough walks and you have to dodge the mud and take the long way around.”
Asked how many holes he played on Friday, four-time Senior PGA winner Hale Irwin cracked, “Fifty-two. We played like an entire tournament today, it seems like.”
Actually, he played 28 holes. But in mushy conditions and on a course with a lot of dramatic rises and falls, that takes its toll.
“Fatigue will be a factor,” said Olin Browne, who followed a 68 with a 70. “The course has a lot of hills and it’s soft.”
Irwin birdied the final hole to get to 6-under 138 and wanted nothing more than to rest.
“I just want to have lunch and put my feet up right now,” said the three-time U.S. Open champion. “That’s about all I can think about.”
Calcavecchia played 27 holes on Friday, finishing up the first round and then completing the second round. He said that was the equivalent of walking 33 or 34 holes because of how many times he had to take a circuitous route to get around a wet spot on the course.
“I’m ready to sit down and grab a beer,” he said.
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NOT-SO-SWEET 16: There’s no doubt that the hole that players have complained about the most this week at Valhalla has been the elongated sixth. Once a dogleg over a river that required a drive and an 8 iron, the whole was stretched to 468 yards for the Ryder Cup in 2008, meaning that for most senior players it requires a 3 wood off the tee and a 3 wood for the second shot.
Yet it’s still not the hardest hole on the course.
That honor goes to the 478-yard, par-4 16th hole, which has required an average of more than 4.5 shots in each of the first two rounds.
The longest par-4 on the course, it’s a slight dogleg to the right along Brush Run Creek. Trees line the hole and make reaching the green, which is guarded by two bunkers, a difficult prospect for drives that stray off line.
A grand total of 15 double-bogeys were made on the hole – just during the first round.
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EXTREME CONDITIONS: As if it weren’t bad enough that Valhalla has been pelted by several inches of rain in recent weeks, including 1 1/2 inches on the eve of the Senior PGA, the players also will deal with extreme temperatures.
The temperature was in the 50s for the early starters on Friday. By Sunday it’s expected to be in the 90s.
That’s fine with Nick Price.
“It will be an adjustment,” he said of the heat. “And it will be very humid because the moisture’s going to come out of the ground. But I’m much happier to have the warmer weather.”
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THE DEFENDER: Defending champion Tom Lehman is anything but pleased with his play so far.
Lehman, who won a one-hole playoff over David Frost and Fred Couples last year at Colorado Golf Club, has put up rounds of 73 and 70 and is at 1-under 143.
“I’m not really happy with the way I played. I haven’t played well at all. I really hit a lot of bad shots,” said Lehman, a three-time winner this year. “I finally got a little bit of something going the last seven holes or so, but I’m hitting it all over the map and not feeling good about my swing.”
Still, he’s under par halfway through the tournament.
“On the other hand I know what I’m capable of and I’m not happy about it,” he said.
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DIVOTS: Tom Pernice Jr. was just slogging through the mud until he posted a birdie-eagle finish for a 70 in the second round that left him at 143. … The PGA of America will not make a decision on whether to allow lift, clean and place in the third round until Saturday morning. … Ken Green, the only amputee to ever play in a PGA of America-sanctioned event, missed the cut with rounds of 80 and 82. He was warmly received by galleries on every hole.