2009 USGA SENIOR MEN'S OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP
"The biggest thing is getting [my] name on that trophy and all the great names that are on there and being part of that history is what I was talking about.''
–Fred Funk, 2009 USGA Senior Men's Open Championship
FRED FUNK • CHAMPION
Barely more than two weeks after the 2005 Solheim Cup matches conclude, Crooked Stick once again finds itself in the golf world spotlight. On September 26, the USGA announces Crooked Stick’s selection as host for the 107th U.S. Women’s Amateur in August 2007. Less than a month later, the club again makes news. On October 11, 2005, the USGA announces its selection of Crooked Stick Golf Club as the site for the 29th U.S. Senior Open to be held in late July 2009. The two upcoming tournaments are among the 13 national championships staged annually by the USGA, 10 of which are contested strictly among amateurs.
Improvements on the course in the past decade along with the new clubhouse mean the club faces few changes to make itself tournament ready. In staging the 2007 U.S. Women’s Amateur, Crooked Stick joins an elite company of host clubs that includes: Pebble Beach, Chicago Golf Club (C . B. Macdonald, 1895), Shinnecock Hills GC (William S. Flynn, 1931), and Pasatiempo GC (Alister MacKenzie, 1929).
The Women’s Amateur, along with the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Open, is one of the USGA’s first three championships—with all three making their debut in 1895. The visit to Crooked Stick marks the second time for a U.S. Women’s Amateur to make a stop in Indiana—the first being in 1956 at Bill Diddel’s 1923 Meridian Hills CC layout in Indianapolis.
Crooked Stick’s Marcia Luigs, two-time women’s club champion, a member of the Indiana Golf Association (IGA) Hall of Fame and sitting chairman of the USGA Women’s Committee is named Honorary Chairman for the competition. Marcia’s husband Joe Luigs (a fellow IGA Hall of Famer), along with Sally Peacock serve as co-chairs for the 156-player competition.
With Crooked Stick’s tees set to 6,595 yards, play begins with 36-hole stroke-play qualifying: 18 on Monday, August 6, followed by another 18 on Tuesday. Stacy Lewis and Kristina Wong earn co-medalist honors with five-under 139 scores, as the field is cut to the low 64 players who advance to match play. One notable achievement from the first two rounds leaves spectators, fans, and the media astonished. For the first time in 107 championships, a competitor younger than 13 qualifies for match play. What’s more, two pre-teens achieve the lofty accomplishment at Crooked Stick: 12-year-olds Pearl Jin of San Gabriel, California and Alexis Thompson of Coral Springs, Florida. Remarkably, each player wins her opening match, and in a curious twist, the two history-makers face off in Thursday’s second round.
Thompson prevails in the historic face-off, 5 & 4 before falling to eventual semi-finalist, 15-year-old Ha-Na Jang of Korea 5 & 4 in the quarterfinals. In the semi-final, Jang takes 17-year-old Maria Jose Uribe to the 17th hole before falling 2 & 1. The other semi-final match features last year’s winner Kimberly Kim (the youngest ever champion at age 14) against Amada Blumenherst, a 20-year-old Duke University junior. Blumenherst, who spends much of her youth in Fort Wayne, Indiana, sports a large gallery that includes numerous family members from nearby. Uribe, a virtual unknown from Colombia, also has a following, albeit of much different makeup. Golfweek magazine reports on the support both players receive at Crooked Stick.
Blumenherst lists Scottsdale, Ariz., as her address, but likes nothing more than to be back home in Indiana. Around 20 relatives made the trip to Carmel Saturday to show support. Uribe also felt a lot of support from Indiana residents during her semifinal match as practically the entire maintenance staff at Crooked Stick came out to watch the South American.
I have been here for two weeks now, so I have seen them as a lot of times,” said Uribe of the Hispanic workers. “It’s good and I know that Amanda has a lot of family here and I don’t have anybody.”
Sunday’s 36-hole final turns into a nip and tuck battle, with the players never separated by more than a one-hole margin. The morning 18 ends with the match all square, the same tally that faces the players as they walk to the 193-yard par-three seventeenth hole, their 35th of the day.
Playing first, Blumenherst strikes five-iron to 16 feet. Uribe counters with a towering five-iron of her own that ends up just seven feet from the cup. Blumenherst, feeling she must make, strikes her putt aggressively, but the ball slides by, running six feet past the hole. Uribe, just outside of her opponent, misses the short birdie attempt and taps in for three. And when Blumenherst’s must-make par putt fails, Uribe finds herself 1-up as she strides to the 18th. Needing to avoid the water, Uribe plays well left off the tee. But her ball comes to rest a bit too far left in the left rough near Pete’s grass pit “Dye-pression.” Blumenherst takes advantage of the opening, her tee-ball finding the middle of the fairway 150 yards from the pin.
Next to play, Uribe knocks a seven-iron to the front of the green, leaving 55 feet to the hole. Blumenherst muscles an eight-iron that lands five feet from the hole, but failing to check, the ball runs just off the back of the green.
Her ball away, Uribe plays next, coaxing her lag putt up to five feet short—and leaving the door open for Blumenherst, who decides to chip. Playing the shot with precision, she trickles her ball up one foot from the hole—and Uribe faces a testing five-footer for the win.
“It was in my hands to finish the tournament,” she says afterward. “I didn’t need her to miss any putt. I just needed to make that one. That is the best part of my game, the five-footers, and four-footers.”
And so it is. Her putt on Crooked Stick’s 18th green rolls true. And when the ball strikes the bottom of the cup, Maria Jose Uribe captures the 107th U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship. In doing so, she becomes the 12th foreign player to win the crown.
2009 USGA senior men's open championship
Club members chair a total of 37 committees charged with staging this next World Class Championship event at "The Stick." Construction of spectator amenities begins, starting with grandstands, hospitality tents, concessions, and merchandise pavilions. The Dyes tour the golf course in May, with Pete and Alice offering tournament prep suggestions.
Interest from players heats up as well. In mid-May, Greg Norman commits to play in Crooked Stick’s Senior Open. Norman, a top-five finisher in the event the previous three years, is the winner of 89 worldwide titles, including the 1986 and 1993 Open Championship titles. “Greg is both a great player and a great friend,” says Pete Dye. “To have him back at The Stick, my home course…is a thrill for me and the entire community.” In his only previous tournament appearance at Pete’s home course, Norman finishes at +1, in 32nd place at the ’91 PGA Championship.
In early July, the Crooked Stick crew implements final USGA tournament greenkeeping procedures – with greens cut once at night, followed by a roll/cut each morning. In the “just in case” department, an on-call staff of more than 25 superintendents and assistant superintendents is put in place. As a final touch-up, logos from the club’s past tournaments are painted on the inside walls of the railroad car bridge adjacent to 17 green. And just three days before tournament week begins, member play on the course wraps up.
In the lounge off the second-floor landing of the Crooked Stick clubhouse, Pro Emeritus Jim Ferriell, full-time PGA Tour player 1970-74, greets competitors to the 30th USGA Senior Open. Seated at the sign-in table, “The Old Pro” renews friendships with former Tour colleagues and meets “newcomer” Seniors alike. First to arrive is Lanny Wadkins, 1977 PGA Champion. “Great to be back,” says Wadkins, a T43 finisher in the ’91 PGA. “Wish they’d had us back a little sooner. I can’t wait to play.”
Hustling their way to central Indiana from Berkshire, England are 44 players who have just completed play in the Sr. (British) Open Championship at Sunningdale (Old) Golf Club (Willie Park Jr., 1901). Among them: newly crowned champ Loren Roberts and runners-up Fred Funk and Mark McNulty.
In all, the 156-man U.S. Senior Open field includes 31 past USGA champions, seven of them U.S. Open winners: Hale Irwin (1974, 1979, 1990), Tom Kite (1992), Larry Nelson (1983), Jerry Pate (1976), Scott Simpson (1987), Tom Watson (1982) plus Indiana native and Crooked Stick honorary member Fuzzy Zoeller (1984). “God bless them,” Zoeller remarks about his fellow club members. “They made me an honorary member. Or was it ornery member?” he jokes to the media. Two other Hoosiers make the field: 56-year-old Connersville native Randy Nichols, a ’96 Indiana Amateur champ and Indiana Golf Hall of Fame inductee and Carmel’s Scott Morris, age 55. Morris plays his way into the field with a medalist-earning 71 in Sectional Qualifying at Pete Dye’s Brickyard Crossing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
In all, 44 competitors from the 1991 PGA at Crooked Stick return, including major champions Ben Crenshaw, Mark O’Meara, Jeff Sluman, Craig Stadler, Dave Stockton, Hal Sutton, Bob Tway, Ian Woosnam and 2009 (British) Open Championship runner-up, Tom Watson. Playing just two weeks earlier at Turnberry, Scotland’s Ailsa links (Willie Fernie), Watson, age 59, nearly becomes the oldest winner in major champion history. He finishes 72 holes in a tie with Stewart Cink before coming up short in a four-hole playoff. Pete Dye’s Monday take on course conditions is short and sweet. “Couldn’t get any better. It’s like carpet out there,” he says.
In addition to greenery, the “largest tournament build” in 30 years of USGA Senior Opens greets spectators. More than 7,000 bleacher seats stand ready, as do 2,900 volunteers from 32 states and five foreign countries.
Practice rounds begin Monday and crowds turn out. Officials report a “larger than anticipated” attendance of 8,032 – a bump of 3,127 over a year earlier. Tuesday attendance registers 13,880, about 5,500 ahead of ’08. The turnout continues Wednesday for practice rounds as crowds total just under 13,820.
Wednesday evening brings gentle rain to Crooked Stick, softening fairways and greens. And Thursday dawns to clear, calm skies as play at the 30th Senior Open gets underway at 7:45 a.m. on the 1st and 10th holes.
Players quickly take advantage of ideal scoring conditions. Teeing off at 8:45 with Bernhard Lager and Jay Haas, Greg Norman pars No. 1, then birdies 2, 3, 4 and 5 – one short of the tournament record for consecutive birdies. Despite a bogey at 18, the 54-year old Norman finishes at 6-under 66 – a new Crooked Stick course record for tournament play. It breaks the previous mark of 67 recorded five times at the ’91 PGA.
Three others get in on the record-setting score and tie “the Shark” atop the leaderboard. Joey Sindelar notches 66 with a six-birdie, no-bogey round. Long-hitting Dan Forsman drops a shot on the first hole then recovers, making seven birdies. He earns a piece of the scoring record thanks in part to average drives of 335.5 yards.
Joining the trio with a most improbable 66 is 50-year-old Jim Jackson – real estate developer, CPA and amateur golfer from Germantown, Tenn. Unknown to many, Jackson is no stranger to competitive golf. He holds no less than 24 tournament titles, including two USGA Mid-Amateur crowns (1994 and 2001). On Thursday, Jackson averages 324.0 yards off the tee. And just like Greg Norman, Jackson reels off four straight birdies on holes 2 through 5. His 66 sets the Senior Open tournament scoring record for an amateur. It breaks the previous mark of 68 held by four players, among them Crooked Stick’s Ed Tutwiler who achieves the mark at Winged Foot in the inaugural 1980 Senior Open.
Rain-softened Pete Dye greens make putting easy work for the 18-hole leaders. Each of the quartet uses just 25 putts on day one.
One stroke behind, tied for fifth, are South Africa’s Futon Allen and 11-time PGA tour winner Andy Bean with 67s. Seven players card 68 and share seventh place, including Senior (British) Open champ Loren Roberts and runner-up and Fred Funk, along with 1996 (British) Open champ Tom Lehman.
Clear skies and no wind contribute to a day one tournament gallery of 22,715 – and to a birdie barrage on the course. Thirty-five players shoot rounds under par – a new Senior Open record. Field average for the day: 74.399 strokes. Sixty of the field’s 156 players average more than 300 yards off the tee. By comparison, long-hitting John Daly's drives average a mere 288.9 yards in his ’91 PGA championship run.
Friday produces a near repeat of the day before. Amateur Tim Jackson, rides a 27-putt performance to a 5-under 67, tying for the low round of the day with two others. He remains in first place – this time alone. Jackson’s 66-67, 11-under total gives him the two lowest rounds ever shot by an amateur in any U.S. Open – men’s, women’s or senior.
Thursday’s co-leaders continue their stellar play. Joey Sindelar shoots 68, and moves into second at 10-under. “Potentially low pro,” he jokes describing his week’s aspiration. He also marvels at the strength of amateur Jackson’s play, saying, “I know how thrilled I am to be in this position…and I do this for a living!”
Norman with a 70 and Forsman at 71 fill fourth and fifth spots respectively at -8 and -7. Matching Jackson’s low round of 67 is Fred Funk, who climbs from seventh into third at -9. The 8-time PGA tour winner says he only recently begins to feel up to full strength, noting he has spent much of the past year recovering from a knee injury, surgery and an infection. Funk, the 36-hole leader at the Senior Open Championship a year earlier, birdies all four of Crooked Stick’s par fives, leaving him delighted. “I’m just pleased that I’m playing at the level I’m playing at right now with everything I’ve been going through.”
The days final 67 goes to 64-year-old, three-time U.S. Open and two-time Senior Open winner Hale Irwin. He recovers from a Thursday 78 to make the weekend field at +1 at the half-way point.
Friday’s bright sunshine and low humidity firms up the greens as the day goes on. Competitors report increased difficulty. “(I) can’t believe the difference in the greens from yesterday morning to this afternoon,” says Greg Norman. Friday’s field scoring average bumps up to 75.391, nearly a stroke more than a day earlier. Attendance for the day tallies 28,548.
With the weekend field cut to the low 60 scores and ties (62 players at +3 or better), several crowd favorites find themselves sidelined. All three Indiana natives miss out: Randy Nichols at +5 (75-74), Fuzzy Zoeller at +9 (78-75) and Scott Morris, +11 (76-79). Also falling outside the cut line are: Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite, Dave Stockton, Lanny Wadkins and Peter Jacobsen. Open Championship runner-up and sentimental favorite Tom Watson, who shoots 71-72, settles into the middle of the weekend pack at -1.
On Saturday, Funk, Norman, and Sindelar continue stellar play. At day’s end, they find themselves on top of the leaderboard at -13, -12, -12 respectively. Amateur Tim Jackson falters slightly. His third round 73 (+1) drops him to solo fourth. In fifth, after carding one of four 68s on the day, is veteran Mark O’Meara. And climbing from T32 into a share of sixth is lefty Russ Cochran who scorches Crooked Stick’s 7,244 yards with a new course record: 64. The 50-year-old Cochran holds a lone PGA tour win from 18 years earlier and makes the field via a sudden death playoff in Sectional Qualifying at nearby Brickyard Crossing (Pete Dye). The Paducah, Ky. native cards nine birdies and a lone bogey, on No. 4.
Paired together in Saturday’s second-to-last group, Norman and Funk battle back and forth for the lead. On 15, Norman eagles to pull ahead by one. Funk retakes the lead with a birdie on the difficult 16th (to a bogey for Norman?), ending the day a stroke ahead of Norman. Together, they become the first two players to record sub-70 scores in the first three rounds of a Senior Open.
The day offers a perfect formula for low scores – friendly weather, ideal course conditions and gentle hole setups. The USGA moves tees up and hole locations forward on three of the par fives. The 62-man field responds, playing the five pars in a collective 93 under par, holing seven eagles along the way. Pete Dye’s closing three holes, however, prove scoring-resistant as the field totals 66 over par on 16, 17, 18, and records just 12 birdies in 186 tries. The day’s fan count shows another hefty turnout: 29,355.
On Saturday night, a passing storm descends, softening greens just beginning to firm up. Sunday’s final day setup again finds several forward tee and hole locations, most notably the 419-yard par-four 12th, which over the first three days, averages 4.10 strokes. Officials move players up to the red tees, cutting the length by more than 100 yards. They place the hole location just nine yards onto the green, making number 12 a drivable 309-yard par-four. Players cash in, notching 29 birdies against 29 pars and just two bogies. The hole averages just 3.645 strokes. Across the board, final round scoring reflects the near-perfect playing conditions: soft turf and a shorter course.
Paired with Greg Norman, Fred Funk starts his round smoothly, going par-birdie-par-birdie. Norman opens with two pars, then stumbles, missing the next five greens in a row. On the watery par-three sixth, Greg’s tee shot finds the hazard, producing double-bogey. He follows with bogey on No. 7 from the greenside bunker ending his trophy bid. A closing 73 gives Norman his third consecutive fourth-place finish in this event. “It just wasn’t my day,” he says.
Russ Cochran continues his superb play with a four-under 68. After opening with a pair of even par 72s, the lefty unleashes a -12 weekend performance to grab sole possession of third place. “I think I hung in there pretty well,” says Cochran.
Starting the final round a stroke out of the lead and playing behind Funk and Norman, Joey Sindelar posts 70, his fourth sub-par round. He takes second place alone at -14 and is all smiles, saying: “When your game holds up with that many eyeballs staring at you for that big a prize, you’ve got to be happy.”
One other player makes major noise on the final day: Loren Roberts. With eight birdies, an eagle and two bogeys he becomes the second player to shoot a course-record 64 at Crooked Stick. The eagle comes on No. 2 as Roberts holes a 124-yard wedge from the left fairway bunker. He finishes Open week -11, tied with Norman for fourth. “I was pretty much playing for second or third, to be honest with you,” he tells reporters. “I think we all got a little lucky with that rain we got last night. It softened the greens. You could play a little more aggressively to the pins.” Tim Jackson, the Thursday/Friday Cinderella-story, falters on Sunday struggling to a final round four-over 76. His +5 weekend drops him to T11, yet earns him Low Amateur recognition at -6. He calls his time at Crooked Stick, “A wonderful experience…a great week.”
Amidst massive numbers of spectators, birdies and eagles – and the longest course in Senior Open history – steady, straight-hitting Fred Funk ultimately brings Pete Dye’s 7,316-yard beast to its knees. His bogey-free 7-under 65 on Sunday produces -20 for the week, the lowest score ever in a USGA championship. It eclipses the previous Senior Open scoring mark of -17 set by Hale Irwin in 2000.
For the championship, winner Funk hits 47 of 56 fairways (84%). He averages 291.4 yards off the tee on – far beyond his 252-yard driving average at Crooked Stick in ’91 PGA. And he makes hay on The Stick’s par fives, finishing them off at 11-under for four rounds. In the end, however, only the top two finishers surpass John Daly’s ’91 scoring mark of -12 at Crooked Stick’s 1991 PGA.
With the Francis Ouimet trophy in hand, the new U.S. Senior champion expresses satisfaction…and a bit of surprise. “It’s something that I couldn’t fathom happening, but it did,” says Funk. “The biggest thing is getting that name on that trophy and all the great names that are on there and being part of history.” In winning the crown, Fred Funk earns for himself a permanent place in USGA and Crooked Stick history.