SAMMAMISH, Wash. (AP) — For many players in the U.S. Senior Open field, they've had to go longer, harder and farther than ever to get into this competition.
It's been a tough month for the 50-and-over crowd. It began three weeks ago when some competed in the Open Championship at the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland. That was followed by the British Senior Open at nearby Carnoustie. Then they all scrambled to catch the 9½-hour flight from London to Seattle to be ready for this senior major at Sahalee.
All three tournaments are contested over four rounds. Most events on the Champions Tour are three rounds.
"It's a situation that none of us really like," said Tim Flaherty, USGA's Senior Open tournament director. "It's a combination of the USGA schedule, the R&A (European) schedule. And we have a contract with NBC. We have to work through their dates."
This is the third year that the players have had to play the British Senior and U.S. Senior Open back-to-back. But it's the first time they've had to travel to the West Coast, adding another few hours to their itinerary.
Two top players, Paul Azinger and Nick Price, withdrew because of injuries.
"I don't like that. That's why I didn't go to the Senior British last week," said veteran Peter Jacobsen. "It's got to change, it's a hardship. It's great playing in the Senior Open and then coming back to the U.S. Senior Open, but it's a hardship. Everyone will tell you it's tough going from one senior major to another senior major."
This will change after next year. The British Open will be followed by the U.S. Senior at Inverness in Toledo, Ohio, in 2011 but then the U.S. Senior will be moved up in the schedule to the week following the July 4 holiday.
"We hear from the players. That's why we've addressed it," Flaherty said. "We definitely hear from the players. I think their concerns are legitimate."
Tom Lehman, in his second year on the Champions Tour, played in the Scottish Open, the Open, the British Senior — all four round events — then flew from London to Seattle on Monday to compete here.
"It's way better coming home," said Lehman. "When you're over there (British Isles), it's 11 a.m and I can't wake up."
COUPLES CLINIC: As part of his duties as honorary chairman of the tournament, Seattle native Fred Couples put on a youth teaching clinic Tuesday afternoon. A quarter of the Sahalee driving range was blocked off, while kids from area youth groups crowded in to get a lesson from Couples.
Questions from the kids ranged from how many tournaments Couples has won (15 on the PGA tour) to his longest drive (about 330 yards) to his favorite color ("Augusta green"). The Washington State Junior Golf Association also brought out the trophy Couples won in 1978 when he was the Washington state Open champion.
Not all went smoothly with the clinic. Sprinklers suddenly turned on early in Couples' talk, soaking some spectators, and Couples was left wondering what to do as the three junior players selected to take part in the clinic didn't need much help with their swings.
"It was pretty awesome. Meeting someone like Fred Couples who has done amazing things ... it was nice to meet him and he gave me a couple of pointers," said 18-year-old Ashley Danforth.