Posted by: Mike Cornelius | July 3, 2017

Steady Kenny Perry Wins The Senior Open

A NOTE TO READERS:  As expected this post was delayed by On Sports and Life’s attendance at the U.S. Senior Open.  Thanks for your continuing support.

For the fourth time this century the USGA brought one of its national championships to Massachusetts this week. The Men’s and Women’s U.S. Opens get the lion’s share of attention each year, appropriately enough since they are our national golf championships and, as their names imply, open through their qualifying stages to any golfer able to authenticate the requisite low single-digit handicap. But American golf’s organizing body annually conducts eleven other championships for both professionals and amateurs.

The Men’s Amateur was contested at The Country Club in Brookline in 2013 (our coverage here), site of three previous plus the 2022 Men’s Open as well as eight other USGA championships and the 1999 Ryder Cup. The 2002 Women’s Open was played at The Orchards Golf Club in South Hadley, a ninety minute drive on the Mass Pike due west from Boston. And the 2001 Men’s Senior Open was played before very large crowds at Salem Country Club, a venerable design by the Scottish titan Donald Ross.

Obviously satisfied with the results of that championship, this week the USGA again brought the Men’s Senior Open to the compact old Ross course that a century after it was first laid out now sits wedged between I-95 and the infamous Route 128 beltway, though entirely hidden from both.

In the modern age of golf Salem CC, which despite its name sits entirely in the neighboring city of Peabody, could never host a Men’s U.S. Open. It lacks sufficient acreage for all the infrastructure that the USGA requires for the national championship, and the course itself can be stretched to barely more than 6,900 yards. Even at that distance the layout features several short holes that would prove far too tantalizing for the PGA Tour’s bombers.

Even a few members of the over-50 set showed they could bring the course to its knees, thanks in no small part to some midweek rains that softened the greens. Kirk Triplett opened with a 9-under par 62 on Thursday, and eight golfers made their first walk around the compact layout within three of that number. Kenny Perry, Bernhard Langer and Fred Couples all charged up the leader board on Friday, thanks to Perry’s low round of the day 65 and a 67 and 68 from the latter two. Saturday Brandt Jobe vaulted himself into contention with the second 62 of the tournament.

But the golf course was not entirely defenseless. Salem is a classic Ross layout, which means greens with Ross’s familiar false front, a steeply sloping entryway, so that a shot that looks like it has made the green will instead roll back down into the fairway. Most of the putting surfaces are also crowned, another Ross trademark. At its worst, this feature can leave a golfer feeling like he is putting on a helmet, with the ground sloping off in every direction.

With a premium on the flat stick, it was no surprise when Triplett and Perry separated themselves from the pack during Saturday’s third round. The former needed just twenty-five putts to record his 66, and the latter but two more to post his 67. None of the next seven players on the 36-hole leader board could negotiate the course with less than thirty putts; as a group, they averaged just shy of thirty-two.

That disparity put Triplett in front at 15-under, one clear of Perry after the 56-year old Kentucky native bogeyed the 18th. The next closest pursuer was Jobe, six shots back at 9-under, and he was another two strokes clear of the rest of the pack.

Any hope for a Sunday charge from those trailing was quickly dissipated when the wind picked up as the final round got under way. Salem’s greens were firming in the hot weather, and the freshening breeze made club selection more difficult. With low scores at a premium, by the time the two leaders teed off it was clear that this year’s Senior Open was all about the final pairing. That battle was quickly joined when Perry birdied the first to erase Triplett’s lead and put two at the top of the leader board. When Triplett bogeyed the par-3 3rd hole Perry, winner of the 2013 Senior Open as well as two other senior majors, had a lead that he would not relinquish.

Perry added another birdie at the dogleg left par-5 6th hole to push his lead to two, even as Triplett fought his way through an up and down round. After recording just two bogeys through the first three rounds, the 55-year old dropped four shots before the turn on Sunday. The last of those, on the par-4 9th, left Triplett four shots adrift of Perry.

Triplett has five Champions Tour wins since joining the senior circuit in 2012. He has come close in senior majors, recording ten top-10 finishes before this week, but he has yet to break through at one of the senior tour’s premier events. That contrast in experience seemed to be telling the tale under the pressure of a major’s final round.

A birdie on the par-5 14th hole moved Triplett one closer, but he was running out of holes as the final pair walked across the narrow two-lane road that separates the 15th through 17th holes from the rest of the golf course. The 15th is a par-3 that was playing at its maximum distance of 224 yards Sunday. The crowd in the grandstand behind the green was still reeling from seeing Jobe shank his tee shot only minutes earlier. His ball headed dead right, but was saved by a ricochet off a tree that prevented it from going out-of-bounds.

Perry’s tee shot wasn’t that bad, but it was one of his poorer efforts, finishing short and left of the green. With the pin at the back of the putting surface, perilously close to the falloff into thick rough, he had no choice but to aim his chip away from the flag. The ball rolled out to twenty-four feet from the hole, and with Triplett safely in with a par it looked like the lead was about to be shaved to two shots, with the momentum belonging to the pursuer.

Perry’s next stroke was likely the shot that won him the Senior Open. His putt rolled up the hill and fell into the dead center of the hole for par. The long distance save became even more important when Triplett birdied the 16th. But a two-shot lead with two to play is far more comfortable than a one-shot edge and three strokes lost in three holes. Twenty minutes later, after a bit of comic relief when Triplett put his tee shot at the last into a flower pot at the entrance to the Lahey Health hospitality tent, Kenny Perry sank one more putt, this one from five feet for his twelfth consecutive par, to win his second U.S. Senior Open.

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