Yesterday, I had the amazing opportunity to photograph day three of the 43rd US Senior Open at SentryWorld as a member of the media. Having never attended a golf tournament as a media member before I wanted to share my thoughts and some of the 2,000-plus photos I took throughout the day.
Taking it all in
To start, the two-plus years of preparation for this tournament are immediately evident when you walk onto the grounds. Perfect greens, thick grass and stark white bunkers all create an idyllic backdrop for the event. While I’m sure the players appreciate the conditions of the course, I’m also sure they’re swearing under their breath at the thick rough that seems to swallow golf balls with no mercy. The scoreboard reflects this level of difficulty, too, with players struggling to get under par in the first few rounds. These tough conditions mean there aren’t quite as many roars from the crowd, but I’d bet birdies feel that much sweeter.
The field at the US Senior Open is filled with so many names that bring flashbacks of watching golf with my dad in my youth. Timeless and legendary players like Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Padraig Harrington still draw faithful crowds and autograph seekers. It was surreal seeing these legends in person still playing the game they love and interacting with their fans. The kinsmanship between players was on display constantly, too, as I watched friendly embraces, smiles and genuine respect for one another throughout the day.
The boys are back in town
A day three pairing that featured Jerry Kelly and Steve Stricker garnered massive attention from the Wisconsin crowd and television crews.
Watching the flock follow the “Wisco Boys” I could feel the support that helped spur on their runs to hunt down the tournament leader, Bernhard Langer.
The camaraderie between these two was constantly evident as they walked together down the fairways and enthusiastically cheered each other on.
An afternoon following the Wisconsinites
I spent most of my afternoon following the Stricker/Kelly pairing and couldn’t help but be amazed with their precision off the tee and well-placed approach shots. Their putters were a little cold, though, and I watched them struggle with missed birdie opportunities, three-putts and speed control. This didn’t seem to only affect them as many of the players I watched fell victim to SentryWorld’s lightning fast greens.
An unlikely hero
A well-known fact amongst Stricker fans, but interesting nonetheless, is that his bag is carried by none other than his wife, Nicki. I heard just as much cheering and encouragement for her as for the guys competing. She always replied with a courteous smile but stayed focused on the task at hand navigating her husband around the course.
The loudest crowd encouragement I heard all day came as Nicki raced down the fairway, bag and all, to catch the group after raking a fairway bunker.
You will notice that Nicki is toting Steve’s clubs in a custom Vessel stand bag that looked quite sharp out on the course. I can’t recommend Vessel’s bags and equipment enough – they’re the favorite of the WiscoGolfAddict team, PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour players.
You can check out one of our most recent Vessel bag reviews here:
A photo finish!
The crowd around the 18th hole swelled as Kelly and Stricker approached the day’s last green. Both had long putts for birdie and were in desperate need of some momentum heading into the final round.
As a hush fell over the crowd, Kelly gave his ball a roll first. He grimaced and leaned as it rolled toward the cup, but after what seemed like an eternity a strong fist pump and roar from the crowd confirmed birdie to cap an impressive 3-under round of 68.
Stricker paced his putt several times, determined to not be outdone and to keep the crowd electrified. With a smooth stroke and confident look he matched Kelly and rolled in another awesome birdie putt to card his own round three 68.
Check out these videos taken by Paul of the back-to-back birdie putts on 18. The huge crowd ate it up as our local heroes rose to the occasion and put themselves in strong contention against Langer for the final round of our country’s greatest championship for players 50-plus.
Check out the photo gallery for my view of the action captured from down the fairway:
The buzz in the air was palpable yesterday as Wisconsin natives celebrated our greatest players and their outstanding performance on an unbelievably challenging setup.
With Kelly and Stricker in second and third place, respectively, day four is shaping up to be an incredible duel with either one still able to overtake first position. I know I’m rooting for one of our fellow cheeseheads to walk away with the Francis D. Ouimet Trophy at the end. Go get ’em guys!