Al Small: My Week at the U.S. Senior Open

The U.S. Senior Open was played from July 28-31 at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. Al Small, the 2009 MGA Senior Amateur champion and immediate past president of the MGA, was the only Met Area amateur to qualify for the championship, and joined Trump National-Colts Neck teaching professional Bill Britton as the local representatives in this year's field. Al traveled with his wife, Patti. It is the second time that Al has played in a U.S. Senior Open, and he and Patti checked in each day with a diary entry and photos, exclusively on mgagolf.org.

SATURDAY, JULY 30 (Completion of Second Round):

I returned to fantastic Inverness one more time today and finished my second round with a bogey. I went for the pin in order to finish in a blaze of glory! Good news was that Jeff Hall birdied 18 to make the cut on the number at plus two. I also see that fellow New Jerseyan Bill Britton made the cut as well -- way to go!

Reflecting on the week here, it was educational to watch these great players hit shots. I found myself wanting to go to the range and work on my swing. Their consistency is what seperates them from the rest of us. I know I would be better if I competed with them regularly.

I think that's a good lesson for all of you. If you want to get better, play with golfers that are better then you. You can learn a lot about shotmaking and course managment. Steve Jones, the 1996 U.S. Open champion, was very nice to me and we talked about the issues a tall player has...he told me to never swing hard. Good advice for us all!

All the best to you all and I hope I was able to give you a little insight into the challenges and experiences of playing in a big-time golf tournament. It was fun for me to share it  with you!

Until next time (hopefully there will be a next time), this is Big Al signing off from the Inverness Club and the U.S. Senior Open.

FRIDAY, JULY 29 (Second Round):

I'm writing this at 9:30 PM, and I just got off the golf course. We teed off at 4:55 PM after a more than two hour rain delay this morning, and we are going to return to Inverness on Saturday morning to finish the round. So I guess you can I say I made my goal...playing on Saturday at a major! Unfortunately it will be just the 18th hole.

It's amazing how being 8 over par after the first round takes all the nerves away. I played like me today, and if I could have made a putt it would have been real 
good. Longest putt I made was 5 feet. Oh well, at least I didn't embarrass myself today.

The course is soft from all the rain and the good players are playing and scoring great. A couple of the guys have been so nice to this electrician. Had lunch today in the players only-area and enjoyed watching the banter and hijinks.

My playing partner Jeff Hart is at 3 over par, so I will be rooting for him to make the cut! After we play the 18th tomorrow we will stay and watch the leaders. We can have a fun dinner tomorrow night before we head back to reality.

Thanks,
Big Al

THURSDAY, JULY 28 (First Round):

Argh! Thank goodness there are no cameras allowed during championship rounds, because there weren't many highlights to record during my first-round 79 (8-over-par). The driver really let me down today. You can't play this event from the rough, and that's where I was for much of the day. Played with two great guys, though, and the honor of playing in a national championship is still very meaningful.

We're off to a Toledo Mudhens game tonight. Tomorrow is another day, and with my afternoon tee time I should have a pretty good idea of what I would have to shoot to play the weekend.

On a brighter note I realized that I was not extending my backswing so we are full of optimism for tomorrow!

AL

WEDNESDAY, JULY 27 (Final Practice):

Hello golf fans,

First, Tuesday night's dinner party was so much fun. It was at Alan Fadel's home, near the course. Alan is a great amateur golfer and plays in all the big events, but unfortunately, he did not qualify for this one here in his hometown. He and his wife, Karen, were gracious hosts and it was a "who's who" of the golf world.

All the big guys were there and it was nice to see them in jeans and share a cocktail and some barbeque with them. Among the notable attendees was USGA Executive Director Mike Davis and President Jim Hyler, along with USGA staff and committeemen. The best part of the night though, was Alan's basement...if you are a golf junkie, he had the coolest golf STUFF that I have ever seen. Sweet!

Today's golf—as a reminder from yesterday's blog entry, it was a match between myself and myself and Paul Simson vs. Pat Tallent and Tim Jackson—was the perfect preparation for Thursday's first round. We all got competitive and had a great match: Tim's four birdies on the closing holes (very impressive) cost me $15. Oh well, at least my caddie (aka, my brother) was free! The shorter guy in our group is Paul Simson. He was brought up at Fairmount Country Club and won the Club Championship once as a teenager. So it's Paul one, Al fifteen FCC championships!. Last year, Paul won the British, United States, and Canadian Senior Amateur Championships. Wow!

I shot 74 today with a double bogey on number 12. That hole has owned me so far...it's a 194-yard par three with a lake to the right and a deep bunker to the left. I will have to find a way to deal with that hole, as it is my third hole tomorrow.  

My decision to take a wedge out of my bag and replace it with a #2 hybrid didn't work today. The wind changed directions and I didn't use the hybrid once, but I needed the gap wedge on three holes. That will be a game-time decision tomorrow morning. 

The course is firming up and playing a little shorter. It will be interesting to see what the USGA does with tee and hole locations. I feel comfortable with all our preparations and know that my caddie knows the course as well as anyone at Inverness!

Well, 9:10 a.m. tomorrow is tee time. I'm paired with John Paesani of Mansfield, Conn., who used to coach the UConn golf team, and Jeff Hart from California. It's time to play mind games with myself...in relation to all the issues in the world, this has no meaning. If I win or finish last, my life will not change. I hope you all will still love me no matter what!

AL

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TUESDAY, JULY 26 (Practice Round):

Hello golf fans,

We had an absolutely terrific and fun day today at Inverness! We played with Tom Lehman (below, left), and you couldn't find a nicer person. He was a little tired as he had just gotten in from playing in the Open and the British Senior Open. He and his caddie, Andy Martinez, shared some stories from the past two weeks and their perspective was great, as they love links golf! Tom is not ready for knee replacement yet and is hitting the ball so solidly, which was fun to watch.

I felt much more comfortable today, and it showed in my play. I actually felt like I belonged out there! But I am very aware that I am an electrician and not a professional golfer.

My caddie today, Mike Hyland (middle in photo at right), was great on the bag. His knowledge of the course and his feel for the game was a big asset. Patti has suggested that Mike caddie in the championship, so the Queen will be a spectator. Thank you, dear!

We have a big amateur match on Wednesday...myself and Paul Simson vs. Pat Tallent and Tim Jackson. Of that group my résumé is the weakest.

My brother Hank will caddie tomorrow, which lets Mike practice and gives Hank a view from inside the ropes. 

We have a little party tonight at a friends house...Toledo is a very welcoming town!

I hope you are getting some enjoyment from this blog. The pictures should be better today as Patti didn't have to carry the clubs and use the camera!

All the best, Al.

Or as my autograph (right) reads....Big Al!

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MONDAY, JULY 25 (Practice Round):

Hello everyone,

It was a hot and humid day at Inverness. The real show started today! We played with Sunny Skinner who is a club pro from Georgia, a pro from Ohio, and the "Boss of the Moss" Loren Roberts. It was enjoyable to watch Loren's smooth chipping and putting stroke. He was very nice and had some interesting insights to the golf that he had played years ago in the PGA Championships (in 1986 and 1993). He is predicting that the course will be much firmer and faster by Thursday's start time.

The course is playing very long...7,150 yards, with no roll. There are several 460-plus par fours which have me thinking about club strategies. The gap wedge may be replaced by a 2 hybrid, as that seems like the club I used on many holes. Adams Golf has been great with supplying clubs for me this year, and their Tour Van is here and they have measured and tweaked my clubs in order to minimize my yardage gaps.

It was interesting teeing off today. I rarely get nervous playing golf these days...I may have been nervous over three shots this entire year. But today I felt nerves for the first 3-4 holes. I'm sure I will feel it Thursday but was surprised by today. Both 1 and 10 are not driver holes and it's always easier to start with that big-headed driver than that small headed 3-wood  hybrid, but we will do our best to meet that challenge!!

Got to talk to some of the good tour guys this afternoon...Kite, Crenshaw and some amateur friends. Tomorrow we have Tom Lehman for 18 holes! This was set up by Tom's brother Jim, who is his agent. I've played with Jim several times over the years at various tournaments. He agreed to set me up with Tom because Tom needs a knee replacement, and I guess I've become a poster boy for that surgery!

One thing I need to deal with is making sure I am fresh for Thursday. When you are at an event you play for four hours, and then you feel like you should practice the rest of the day. That is not a good idea for senior golfers. This old guy will have to make sure I sit my butt down on Wednesday!

Patti gets the day off tomorrow. I have good friend Mike Hyland caddying tomorrow...he is the club champ here at Inverness and has offered to give me the inside scoop about the course. Mike is a great player, he won the New Jersey Amateur in 1998 and the Philly Am this year!

Well, time for bed!

All the best from Toledo,  

AL

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SUNDAY, JULY 24 (Arrival and Practice):

Hello Friends,

Thank you all for the good wishes that you've been sending prior to our departure...it means a lot to Patti and me to have the support of all our friends.

We will be doing this blog daily in order to share with all of you the fun, pressure, anxieties, and excitement of playing in the U.S. Senior Open. I hope my experience of playing in this same championship at Praire Dunes in 2006 will help me to simply "play my game" and not get caught up in all the hype. Unfortunately, I am 5 years older and I do not hit it as far, chip as well, and probably see or hear as well as I did back then. Getting old!!!

Sunday was very peaceful here.  After an early morning flight, we played 14 holes with a teaching pro from Dayton. The crews are still doing construction and there were no spectators. The course has a lot of history, and this is the seventh USGA championship it has hosted (including four U.S. Opens, and the Senior Open in 2003). It also hosted two PGA Championships, in 1986 and 1993. The course is soft
from recent rains and playing long....and it is a great layout. Some birdie holes, and many bogey holes!

Enjoy the pictures. Shown here from top to bottom is our Lexus courtesy car (sweet), our sponsors (ha-ha) and my dear caddie!!

We send our best to you all...say a prayer for me!!

AL

 

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