Kite shoots record 28 on front 9 at Senior Open

Tom Kite

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The USGA 29 club

1986: Mark Boyajian, U.S. Mid-Amateur, Annandale CC, Madison, Wisc.

1995: Neal Lancaster, U.S. Open, Shinnecock Hills GC, Southampton, N.Y.

1996: Neal Lancaster, U.S. Open, Oakland Hills CC, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

1997: Bert Atkinson, U.S. Mid-Amateur, Dallas (Tex.) Athletic Club

2001: Christina Kim, U.S. Girls’ Junior, Indian Hills CC, Mission Hills, Kan.

2003: Vijay Singh, U.S. Open, Olympia Fields (Ill.) CC

2008: Scott Fawcett, U.S. Mid-Am, Milwaukee CC, River Hills, Wisc.

LAKE ORION, Mich. – There are devils out there. Mostly they prey on golfers who are putting.

Every player – smooth putting stroke or not – has danced with these putting demons. The disorder starts with a balky stroke here or a three-putt there. It progresses to a major breakdown, the golfer being totally afflicted with the heebie jeebies.

Welcome aboard. You are possessed by the goblins of the greens.

Tom Kite knows these monsters. Though Kite has won the U.S. Open and totaled 19 victories on the PGA Tour and 10 on the Champions Tour, there have been rounds in recent years when the hole must have seemed as small as a quarter. His ball just didn’t seem to fit.

Let it be known that Thursday was not one of those days.

In the U.S. Senior Open here at Indianwood Golf & Country Club, Kite had 11 putts on the front nine. He shot 28, a U.S. Golf Association championship record for nine holes. The USGA has been contesting its championships since 1895, and nobody ever shot a 28 until Kite’s 1-eagle, 5-birdie, 3-par performance.

The par on each nine at Indianwood is 35, so Kite was 7-under on the front nine. OK, so he backpedaled to 37 on the back nine, but his 5-under 65 still led the championship. And people were still talking about that miraculous 28.

“I played with Tom Kite today,” said Peter Jacobsen, “and I felt like the Washington Generals playing the Harlem Globetrotters. I was his towel boy.

“Tom putted as well today with that long putter as I’ve seen him in five or six years. He was confident. He stepped up to every putt and, boom, he was assertive.”

Jacobsen, by the way, shot an even-par 70 to remain in contention.

The first hole at Indianwood is a par 5 measuring 511 yards, and Kite was just short of the green with his second shot. He failed to get up-and-down, starting with a two-putt par.

In the next five holes, he would take five putts. That stretch included three birdie putts of 18, 15 and 12 feet. It also included a no-putt eagle at the fourth hole, where he holed a 155-yard shot with an 8-iron.

“I couldn’t see it,” Kite said. “It was totally blind. The crowd started making noise, and it got louder and louder, and finally they all just erupted. That’s when I knew it had gone in.”

Kite closed the front side with two more birdies at Nos. 8 and 9, with putts of 13 and 12 feet, respectively.

The devils and demons must have been napping. Kite added 14 putts on the back nine, finishing the day with 25 putts. For the record, he hit nine of 14 fairways and 13 of 18 greens.

Kite is 62, which gives him license to say, as he did Thursday, “Haven’t you heard? The 60s are the new 40s.”

His Odyssey putter isn’t quite that old, but it is a vintage long putter. A quick phone call to Callaway Golf, owner of Odyssey, revealed that the putter is at least 10 years old. It is a center-shafted Odyssey White Hot Long, with a length of 47.5 inches. It has three sight lines on the back section of the putter.

Kite switched to a long putter “seven or eight years ago,” by his estimation. He practices putting all the time, but does not rely on any instructor.

“Nobody knows how to teach it (the long putter method),” Kite said with utter seriousness.

Can he defy the devils and shoot another 65 in the U.S. Senior Open, which is frequently acclaimed as the most important major championship in senior golf?

No, probably not, he reckoned.

“I certainly didn’t see any 28 or anything like that today,” Kite admitted. “This golf course has enough bite in it that it’s not going to let the same folks get (to) it every day.”

Bite, eh? Some observers here are saying that Indianwood, having given up a record score of 28, will retaliate by eating these golfers for lunch in the final three rounds.

Oh, those dirty demons.

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