U.S. Senior Open Notebook: Green could upstage his boss with big win

damon green, zach johnson
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Most of the time, U.S. Senior Open contender Damon Green serves as the caddie for Zach Johnson on the PGA Tour.
By
Rusty Miller
Associated Press

Series: Champions Tour

If things work out right this week, Damon Green will make more headlines than his boss.

Green, who caddies for the PGA Tour’s Zach Johnson, shot a 4-under 67 to stand in a tie for fourth, just three shots back, after the opening round of the U.S. Senior Open at Inverness Club on Thursday.

Wait. He almost made headlines two weeks ago while looping for Johnson at the British Open.

“He kind of had his back to the hole and I thought he had lost sight of where the hole was. I almost went up and said, `Zach, hang on. The pin’s over here,”’ Green said, trying to stifle his laughter. “But he hit this ball up on the fringe, had it come down and he almost made it. I said, `Dude, I almost stopped you there!’ I’m glad I didn’t. I would have looked like an idiot.”

He looked like a genius on Thursday.

Even through 12 holes after starting on the 10th, he eagled his 13th hole and then birdied the last two.

Green, an amateur from Florida, might be playing in his first U.S. Golf Association national event, but he’s far from a neophyte. He was on Johnson’s bag when he captured the 2007 Masters and has caddied for nine PGA Tour victories for Johnson and Scott Hoch. He’s caddied in more than 10 U.S. Opens.

Being on the course with so many elite golfers has made him a better player.

“I’m way better,” he said. “I’ve won like 71 tournaments on the mini-tours, but I really didn’t know what I was doing until I started caddying for Scott Hoch and he taught me a lot about course management. I learned you don’t have to shoot at every pin; sometimes par’s not bad. With Zach, it’s more putting. He’s a really good putter.”

The 50-year-old Green figures he’s been pretty lucky to carve out a career in golf, even if it’s not exactly the one he might have picked.

“I never dreamed I’d be a caddie,” he said.

He always figured he’d be a player. A star at Centenary, he came within a 2 1/2 -foot putt on the last hole of getting his PGA Tour card at Q-School in 1994. It still haunts him.

“Every night, almost. You’ll be laying in bed and if you think about that 2 1/2 -footer that you missed and it could have changed your life,” he said. “I wake up in a cold sweat sometimes.”

Winning would erase quite a few of those nightmares. But it still wouldn’t change the life he’s living.

“Not necessarily,” he said with a grin. “I had it in my mind even if I got my (Champions Tour) card I’d probably still do both. You know, the way the schedule is, I enjoy competing and I enjoy caddying.”

So no matter what happens at Inverness, he’ll keep doing both.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Joey Sindelar on the tough stretch between Nos. 12 and 16: “So many of the classic bloody-nose holes are in a row here.”

ANOTHER STEP: Defending champion Bernhard Langer isn’t looking for a miracle this week in the U.S. Senior Open. He just wants to continue in the right direction.

After missing almost four months rehabbing a torn ligament in his thumb, Langer shot a 1-under 70 at Inverness Club. It’s his third tournament back and he hoped that he could just get through another week without pain.

He celebrated a birdie putt on the 18th hole with a surprisingly exuberant display of emotion.

“Every shot counts, every shot is important,” he said. “It’s nicer to be in the red numbers and one closer to the leaders.”

NOW OR NEVER: Steve Jones won the 1996 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills but now has the challenge of just trying to get his foot in the door at Champions Tour events.

Injuries have stunted a once-promising career. He’s had an irregular heartbeat, elbow surgery and a shoulder injury in recent years. As a result, he’s struggling to even get a chance to play.

“This is my fifth tournament. It just takes time,” he said. “I need a year to really get going, but I really don’t have a year. I’ve got to try to step it up somehow.”

He shot a 4-under 67 in the first round, which should open some doors down the road.

“I don’t have eligibility. I have to go to (Champions) Tour School unless I play into the top 30 or win or something,” he said. “So it’s an emergency.”

It becomes a continual worry for the Montanan.

“I haven’t made any money for four years since I’ve been injured,” he said. “Now you’ve got to come back against these guys. Are you kidding me? That’s a tough row to hoe, I tell you.”

IT’S NOT THE HEAT: The temperature for the first round of the U.S. Senior Open was a seasonal 88 degrees early in the afternoon. But that doesn’t mean it was comfortable for the 156-player field.

Overnight rains combined with the sun and little breeze to turn Inverness Club into a massive sauna. The humidity was so high that it appeared the galleries and players had been doused with a fire hose, so wet was their clothing.

“I was running out of gas coming down the stretch,” said Mark O’Meara, who shot a 66 after flying from the Senior British Open on Sunday to his home in Houston before arriving in Toledo on Wednesday afternoon. “It was hot out there, I’ve got to tell you. When you’re going from last week wearing a sweater to the heat and humidity like it was today, you could cut it with a knife out there.”

Even those with an early tee time weren’t spared the brunt of the oppressive weather.

“The first couple of hours were OK; it was a little cooler and you’re fresh,” defending champ Bernhard Langer said after shooting a 70. “But then as the round goes on it’s a long time out there in the heat. (I was) huffing and puffing at the end.”

Langer was in the sixth group off the tee, early in the morning. Two-thirds of the field played in even higher heat and humidity.

DIVOTS: Citing a bad back, Craig Stadler withdrew just before teeing off and was replaced by Jon Chaffee of Scottsdale, Ariz.. … Bruce Lietzke, who won the only previous U.S. Senior Open at Inverness in 2003, was 8 over par through 13 holes when he walked off the course due to a shoulder injury. … 1986 Senior Open winner Dale Douglass, 75, almost shot his age with a 78. …The toughest hole in the first round was the par-4 16th, 476 yards. Only one birdie was recorded against 54 bogeys, 11 double bogeys and three “others” … Leader Olin Browne had one of the eight eagles surrendered by the easiest hole, the par-5 fourth.