Olin Browne has circled the globe playing professional golf for the past 27 years. He knows it takes a lot more than 18 holes and a lucky shot to win a major championship.
“Are you ready to give me the trophy today?” he asked an observer who wondered why he was so nonchalant about leading the U.S. Senior Open by two shots. “That’s why.”
2011 U.S. SENIOR OPEN
Inverness is hosting a major for the first time since the 2003 U.S. Senior Open, won by Bruce Lietzke.
Browne eagled two holes in a five-hole span coming down the stretch and finished with a 7-under 64 Thursday to take the top spot on a hot and humid day at Inverness Club.
Browne, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour in his third year on the over-50 circuit, was 1 under on the day and four shots off the lead as he came to the third hole, his 12th. After birdieing it, he hit a hybrid-3 from 216 yards that came to rest 6 feet from the pin at the fourth. He rolled that putt in for an eagle.
He followed that with a par and a birdie. His second eagle was far more dramatic.
Browne, tied for third a year ago at the U.S. Senior Open, had 97 yards left as he prepared for his third shot on the par-5 eighth. His wedge covered the flag, then spun back into the cup as he cast a stunned look at caddie Otis Moore.
“The key to hitting that shot in was, first of all, you’ve got to get super lucky,” he said, a white towel over his shoulders to sop up the perspiration. “You’ve also got to hit the right distance -- the wind was up and down. I managed to hit it and guess the wind properly.”
Over the six holes from Nos. 3 through 8, he went 6 under, and picked up five shots on par in a span of five holes.
The 64 tied for the lowest first round ever at a U.S. Senior Open, matching Bruce Fleisher (2000), R.W. Eaks (2002) and Craig Stadler (2005).
Even though Browne had never gone lower since turning 50, he’s flirted with low scores in the Senior Open before. He has had closing rounds of 65 and 66 in his previous two starts in the tournament.
Despite four birdies, the two eagles and a bogey in his lowest round on the Champions Tour, Browne wasn’t ready to draw any larger conclusions.
“You know, this game giveth and this game taketh back,” said the 52-year-old Floridian. “So I’m not all that hysterical about it right now. I’m really pleased with where I am, but there is a lot of stuff to be done yet.”
Two strokes back were Mark O’Meara and Michael Allen, who each shot bogey-free 66s.
O’Meara, whose last two PGA Tour victories came in the 1998 Masters and British Open, used some older clubs while fighting off jet lag from a frequent flyer’s dream trip over the past few weeks.
He played in the Champions Tour event at Pebble Beach, then in the British Open at Sandwich, then the Senior British Open at Walton Heath. He flew back across the Atlantic on Sunday night to his home in Houston, where he spent two days before coming to the Rust Belt for a quick practice round late on Wednesday.
While at home, he swapped out several clubs he had used in Britain.
“I got my old set (of irons) and put those back in the bag and kind of went back with my old driver. I fiddle a little bit but not too much,” he said. “So it was on familiar ground. Like yesterday in the practice round, I hit the ball nicely. I was like, `OK, there’s no reason why I can’t continue on that path.”’
Allen’s only senior victory came in another major in Ohio, the 2009 Senior PGA Championship at Canterbury in Cleveland.
He said the fast start will make it easier for him to be patient.
“Usually when I’m out here, I seem to be chasing from so far behind,” he said. “So it’s nice to be able to come out and play and not have to keep making birdies and catching up all the time.”
Amateur Damon Green, better known as former Masters champ Zach Johnson’s regular PGA Tour caddie, was at 67 with former U.S. Open champion Steve Jones and Mark Wiebe.
Leading the pack at 68 were former British Open winner Mark Calcavecchia, ex-U.S. Open winner Corey Pavin and 1988 PGA Championship victor Jeff Sluman.
Seemingly ageless Hale Irwin was up to his usual tricks. The winner of three U.S. Opens, including the one held 32 years ago at Inverness, was once again in contention in a major at age 66. He shot a 69.
Defending champion Bernhard Langer, still rounding into shape after rehabbing a thumb injury for 4 months, shot a 70. He was joined there by Russ Cochran, coming off a major championship victory a week ago at the Senior British Open.
There were 35 players who broke par and another 11 who equaled it.
Browne refused to feel any pressure because he was low man.
“You guys are acting like I’m the next thing,” he said to reporters. “It’s just the way the game works, you know? I’m not losing perspective over this. There’s a long way to go.”