By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – If it weren’t for bad luck when it comes to weather, Valhalla Golf Club wouldn’t have much.
Scoring-wise, the players weren’t complaining in the spongy, sloppy first round of the 72nd Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid, where Japan’s Kiyoshi Murota fired a 6-under 66 Thursday to take the early lead.
Trevor Dodds was one shot back after a 5-under 67, while Mark O’Meara was another shot back after a 68.
“The conditions were a little trying out there with the weather the way it has been, but credit the PGA, they moved some of the tees up, which obviously was nice, but some of the holes I couldn't get my line off the tee because I am not used to … well I didn't know kind of where to go on some of the tee shots,” O’Meara said. “But overall I was pleased with my performance. I think the birdies on 2, 3 and 4 kind of got me going.”
The first round began at 9:00 a.m. -- 1 1/2 hours later than scheduled -- due to severe storms that swept through Louisville late Wednesday night and into Thursday morning, dumping more than 1 1/2 inches of rain. More storms around noon resulted in a 3 1/2-hour delay.
In all, only 78 players completed the first round before it was called due to darkness at 8:45 p.m. The rest will resume Round 1 at 7:30 a.m. Friday and, luckily, the forecast for the rest of the week looks dry.
Defending champion Tom Lehman was 2 over through nine holes when his day was cut short.
Weather seems to be an issue every time Valhalla is in the mix.
Here’s a chronological look at big-time events hosted at Valhalla, along with the weather experienced that week:
1996: Mark Brooks defeats Kentucky native Kenny Perry in a playoff with 90-degree temperatures throughout the week.
2000: Tiger Woods wins a playoff showdown over Bob May, again with temperatures in the 90s throughout.
2004: The Senior PGA Championship came to town and the course picked up a new nickname: “Lake Valhalla.” Torrential rains and massive flooding at the course forced a Monday finish that saw Hale Irwin hoist the Alfred S. Bourne Trophy for the fourth time.
2008: Just before the start of the Ryder Cup, a hurricane rolled through Louisville causing mass power outages and damage to trees and structures on the course. That, of course, was all forgotten once the Americans won back the Ryder Cup for the first time since 1999.
2011: Well, here we are again for another Senior PGA Championship and the weather is the top story.
What does Mother Nature have against poor Valhalla? Granted, we’ll give her a pass for those two PGA Championships -- after all, those are played in August. But the Senior PGA Championships are played in the spring and the Ryder Cup is in the fall.
While the wet, soggy conditions weren’t ideal from a spectator’s point of view, it wasn’t so bad for the players. Due to the conditions, the PGA of America elected to move tees forward and put the lift, clean and place provision in play.
A total of 10 players turned in under-par rounds before play was suspended for the day.
With no roll to speak of on the fairways, poor shots weren’t so bad.
In ideal conditions, Murota’s 66 would be unthinkable. In Thursday’s conditions, he made it look like a walk in the park.
“It's too wet and we had the tee advantage up front, so maybe today's easy, maybe they change it,” Murota said through his caddie/translator. “Maybe it's more difficult. Force you to hit longer shots.”
For Dodds, the low score was a result of a remarkable day on the greens with just 23 putts.
“The greens are perfect,” Dodds said. “With all the rain they’ve had, the greens stayed fairly dry and they're fast enough, but they're not out of control. So you can hit your putts a little harder than you maybe would at a lot of majors. I think that adds up to guys making a lot of putts. The guys in our group putted good in general.”
Believe it or not, the performance Dodds had with the short stick wasn’t even close to his best. Earlier this year, Dodds said he needed just 19 putts in a Champions Tour qualifier.
“It was amazing,” he said. “If I missed a green I got it up and down and when I had a chance to hole a putt, I did. So it happens. You have those days. They happen.”