Here are five things to know from Thursday at the Senior British Open at Walton Heath Golf Club:
1. I want to play forever
Carl Mason is a rarity on the senior circuit. With 21 titles on the European Senior Tour since 2003, Mason has accumulated a tidy nest egg.
He also has no desire to retire, and who could blame him? With career earnings of 2,189,520 euros (about $3.15 million), Mason would be ludicrous to retire, which is exactly how he’s thinking.
“My body’s not good at the minute,” Mason said after an opening-round 4-over 76 in the Senior Open Championship at Walton Heath Golf Club in Surrey, England. “I’m in such a terrible run with my back the last six weeks, this is the first time I played for five weeks, so that’s frustrating. I just don’t want this to be a permanent thing just yet. I would like to play another five years or so.”
With only two victories in 521 starts in 25 years on the European Tour, Mason decided quit to become director of golf at Welcombe Hotel Spa & Golf Club in Stratford-Upon-Avon, about 100 miles west of London.
Twelve months later, Mason concluded that the retail life was not for him. He returned to touring life as a referee on the Senior Tour, where he rekindled his desire to compete.
“I sat there watching them play and I thought, ‘Well, you know, I can handle this out there, I’m sure,’ ” Mason said of his five years as a referee. “I can play on this tour. And so I looked forward to it, and the break did me good. I came back fresh. After 25 years on the main tour, I had totally had enough.”
With his victory earlier this season at the OKI Spanish Senior Open, Mason has victories in the nine consecutive years on the tour.
Mason, 58, points to an early victory as the catalyst to his longevity.
“I got off to that early win and did so well at the Senior Open at Turnberry,” Mason said of his debut in 2003. “And things went on from there, and I just couldn’t believe what was happening. I was up there every week, especially in those first few years. I was winning five, four events a year, and it was amazing.”
2. Most of them absolutely destroy me
Albert MacKenzie qualified for the Senior Open after shooting a 71 at Kingswood, just down the street from Walton Heath. Now, he finds himself having jumped from qualifier to contender after a first-round 3-under 69.
“My first goal was to make the cut,” said MacKenzie, a club pro at Saunton. “So hopefully I’ve made some inroads into doing that today.”
West of London by 178 miles, Saunton Golf Club is a links gem in North Devon. MacKenzie has been the pro there for the past 14 years and wouldn’t swap it for anything.
But at the same time, the membership likes to take full advantage on pro’s days, when the pro plays against the membership.
“They’ll be very surprised,” MacKenzie said of the membership when they see his name on the leaderboard. “Most of them hammer me in pro’s days. So its nice that I’ve managed to really show them that some days I can do quite well.”
3. Adequate start
Defending champion Bernhard Langer showed flashes of the dominance he had in the 2010 season with four birdies in the first seven holes, but with his surgically repaired thumb still giving him trouble, the former Ryder Cup captain could manage only a 2-under 70.
“It’s a factor in the sense I’m still battling with my swing,” Langer said of the pesky left thumb. “I’m trying this for a couple of holes and trying that for the next few holes, not trusting everything yet.”
4. Royal St. George’s vs. Walton Heath
Tom Watson played 72 holes at the Open Championship last week at Royal St. George’s, with bogey his worst score. It took only eight holes for Watson to record a double bogey on his way to a 3-over 75, his worst score since arriving this summer in the British Isles.
“I kind of flubbed it around at No. 8,” Watson said of an over-enthusiastic 8-iron that missed the green on the 442-yard par 4. “Made double bogey there just from the middle of the fairway.”
With only one birdie on the card in Thursday’s first round, the eight-time major winner pointed to the putter as the culprit for his poor play.
“I didn’t putt very well,” Watson said. “Three-putted a couple of times and I missed a 2 1/2-foot putt for birdie on 10. And I had some really good, makeable opportunities I didn’t make.”
5. Paris in the summer
Mark Calcavecchia tempted everyone at the Open Championship last week with an opening-round 69, but in less than 24 hours Calc was gone. A 79 in the second round and the happy-go-lucky former Open champion was threatening not to stay in the U.K.
“We didn’t know what to do,” Calcavecchia said after posting a 4-under 68 in the first round of the Senior Open Championship. “When you miss the cut over there (Royal St. George’s), you’ve got six days until this tournament starts. That’s a long time.”
So the Calcavecchias decided to come to London early and jump on a train to Paris.
“We went for a day and a half to waste a little bit of time and money,” Calcavecchia said.
He is in position to make some of that money back. He’s tied for the lead with Mike Harwood and Mark McNulty.
“I’ll do better on Friday than I did last week,” Calcavecchia said. “I just got off to a horrible start (last week), and I pretty much was finished by the time I got to the fifth tee. I was 6 over through four.”