Sunday, June 8


Premium on 'been there, done that'



If you want to win the U.S. Open, and you can't be a 27-year-old tycoon with a dazzling smile and eight major championship trophies, your next best bet is to be on the north side of 40. That's years, not strokes.

Scott Hoch
Scot Hoch, 47, has won five times since turning 40 (including once in 2003), and finished in the top-10 at Bethpage last year.

When the palms start leaking sweat on the back nine of Father's Day at Olympia Fields Country Club, and the Open championship is at stake, recent history tells us that the contenders will include a couple of guys with creases around their eyes as sharp as the creases in their slacks.

At the 2002 U.S. Open, at Bethpage Black on Long Island, four of the top 10 finishers, including Nick Faldo and Scott Hoch, who tied for fifth, had reached the big four-oh. At the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills in Tulsa, three of the top six were over 40, including playoff loser Mark Brooks, Paul Azinger (fourth) and 52-year-old Tom Kite, who shot a 64 on Sunday.

The idea of an older golfer winning the U.S. Open deserves greater consideration this season because of the success of players such as two-time winner Vijay Singh (40), two-time runner-up Jay Haas (49), and Hoch (47), who has won five times since turning 40, most recently at the Ford Championship in March. Given how well they're playing, and what the United States Golf Association demands of an Open champion, the older golfers may have a distinct advantage.

Over the hill? Think again
Nick Price believes the tour's 40somethings still have the desire -- and the game -- to compete at the U.S. Open.

''The only thing I can say is that the 40-somethings are still keen to play it,'' he said. ''If you have a look a (Jeff) Sluman, Scott Hoch, just name any, there's a whole bunch that have really played well.''

One of those is Price himself.

The 46-year-old had a final-round 5-under 65 at the Byron Nelson Championship earlier in the year, finishing as the runner-up to Vijay Singh. That came after he tied for fifth at the Wachovia Championship in North Carolina.

Price also cited the improved play of 43-year-old Fred Couples, who won the Houston Open in April by four strokes.

''The reason Freddie played well is because -- he'll be the first one to tell you -- he got off his backside and stopped watching TV,'' Price said with a laugh. ''His back was better and he started playing a little bit more.''

Price knows he and Couples won't be the favorites at the Open. That doesn't mean they should be counted out, though.

''Being 40something, the only negative to it is that you don't have a lot of time left,'' he said. ''But if you've got the desire, I think as all the guys are showing, it still can be done.''
-- Associated Press

Experience counts at The Masters, because the golfers who play Augusta National Golf Club every April eventually see shots and putts that they've had before. Experience counts at the Open for a similar reason, even if, as is the case this year, the Open hasn't been held at Olympia Fields in 75 years. Year in and year out, the USGA expects golfers to hit the fairway and hit the greens.

It sounds simple, yet, in the last decade, as distance has become the overriding characteristic in the design of clubs and balls, the younger golfers who join the PGA Tour think length first, and straightening out that length second. "The U.S. Open puts more emphasis on distance control and trajectory," said Scott Verplank, 38, who has made nine of 11 cuts in U.S. Open play. "If you're between 35 and 45, you still have more experience at that. I think, ultimately, that tournament is set up where ball control and brain control are important. Experience in understanding that is paramount."

Rocco Mediate, who turned 40 last December, finished fourth at Southern Hills two years ago, two strokes out of the playoff. "I'm 18 years out here. I've sustained how I play over 18 years. The U.S. Open is fairways and greens, no matter what anybody says. It's not about putting that week. It's about keeping the ball in play. It demands excellence at controlling your ball."

"If you were going to prepare a (course) where all the older players would play well," asked Kirk Triplett, 41, who tied for seventh at Southern Hills, "it would be the Open, wouldn't it? It's all about accuracy."

Hitting it straight sounds boring, but the USGA also has a place for a golfer's imagination. Open courses extract a higher penalty for missing the green. The collar around the greens is usually thicker than it is on the PGA Tour. That means short-game skill and improvisation is at a premium.

"As guys get older, their short game gets better," 46-year-old Mark O'Meara said as he stood on the range last Wednesday at the FBR Capital Open. "They realize that you have got to have that to be very competitive. That comes from experience. You're thinking, 'I'm not getting it up and down. I don't need to stand out here and hit drivers. I need to work on my short game.' If Annika (Sorenstam)'s short game had been good (at the Colonial), she would have been playing on the weekend."

To a man, the 40-and-over golfers who will play at Olympia Fields brought up patience. Hoch recalled the sodden conditions last year at Bethpage, where in one round he hit driver, 3-wood at the 489-yard, par-4 seventh hole and was still 20 yards short of the green.

"I didn't get upset," Hoch said. "You've just got to realize it and deal with it. That's just the way it is. The Open is going to be tough. Hey, you are going to get screwed. You're going to hit shots a little off (target) and not have anything. That's part of it. It's going to happen to everybody, and you keep plugging away. You ask somebody who hasn't played as many (Opens), they may get frustrated."

"
Patience is a key word at the U.S. Open. Sometimes, you've got to take your medicine. Sometimes, when you're younger, you have a hard time realizing that. Try not to make the heroic shot. Make a bogey, not a double bogey. Take your five.
"
-- Mark O'Meara

Adds O'Meara, "Patience is a key word at the U.S. Open. Sometimes, you've got to take your medicine. Sometimes, when you're younger, you have a hard time realizing that. Try not to make the heroic shot. Make a bogey, not a double bogey. Take your five."

An Open bogey isn't as punitive as it is on the PGA Tour. The wizened heads understand that par is a good score. On the Tour, said Davis Love III, 39, "You always see a guy who is at 5- or 6-under the first couple of days and you think you have to catch him. At the U.S. Open, you don't have to catch him. You just have to hang in there and give yourself a chance and not do anything crazy. If you stay around even (par) and you are being patient and you are giving yourself opportunities, you can have a chance to win from even-par going into the weekend, or even Sunday."

Patience. Experience. Controlling the ball. All of that, and maybe gray hair and a little paunch as well.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.



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