Let's play fantasy golf. Let's say Fred Couples and Tom Watson are in town.
Let's say a whole locker room full of golf's movie stars, men who conquered such places as Augusta National or Pebble Beach, are coming to play your course.
What would you want to see them do?
Suffer? Or show off their greatness?
What shot would you want to see them hit?
This isn't fantasyland for the members of Omaha Country Club. Surreality starts on Thursday, when the U.S. Senior Open begins on the gorgeous hills of OCC. They will watch Couples and Watson and Bernhard Langer and Tom Lehman and Corey Pavin walk their fairways, hit their shots, though at times from much different places.
What would they want to see? I recently caught up with three OCC members: Bill Carver, 63, a 30-year member at OCC and a 15.0 handicap; Mike Kelly (67, 15 and 15.0); and Mike Lebens (61, 13 and 16.0). We sat around a table in the men's locker room and they tried to picture what it will be like to see the movie stars walking their fairways.
Q: First things first. What do you want to see this week?
MK: “I want to see them play as hard as they can play. And if it's anywhere but in the fairway, it might be as hard as they can play. I played with (defending champion) Roger Chapman and Fred Funk when they were here this spring. I saw both of them swing at balls in the rough and both of them made the comment, 'Don't get in the rough.' ”
Q: What is the rough up to?
BC: “It's usually about two and a half inches. It's around four for the tournament.”
MK: “It's a lot thicker and lusher than we're used to. And it took us about three years to get it there.”
Q: What do you think the first reactions will be from the players?
BC: “I got to play with a guy from Australia, Peter Fowler. He was blown away by the course. He loved it.”
ML: “The greens are pretty unique. They're Perry Maxwell greens. They're going to have undulations, things they don't see every week on the tour.”
BC: “There are going to be lies here that guys aren't used to, side hills, other things. We had Fred Funk here for a stag and he said this is going to be a challenge. He said if they let the greens go where they want them, even par will be a good score.”
Q: Will you be disappointed if they go low? Would you feel better if the winner is even par or over?
ML: “I just want it to be fair and challenging. I don't know that the score is that important.”
MK: “I want them to have a great experience here, with the community and club and crowds. A funny question that Roger Chapman asked me: He said Monty (Colin Montgomerie) is going to be here, and how will Omaha fans react to Monty? I told him you'll be surprised. Omaha fans are pretty sports savvy and they're nice to everybody, not that anyone here has anything to pick on Monty. I'd be shocked if anyone here gives him a hard time. I thought it was interesting that he asked that question.”
BC: “We don't want this to be a death march for these guys. There are spots where you can put the pins where it's basically unplayable if you get the greens that fast. We want it to be fair. We don't want these guys to come back and say, 'Oh my God, I don't want to come back here again.' ”
Q: I think the greens are going to be the star of the show and talk of the week. Especially if the USGA sets them up fast. Agree?
MK: “If we have them at a 12.5 Stimp (A Stimpmeter measures the quickness of the green), which is what the USGA is expected to have them, then No. 5, No. 17 and No. 12, with the way the course will be set up, will be very interesting. Especially No. 5. If you don't hit exact spots, it will be very hard.”
Q: What advice would you give the players about the greens?
BC: “Keep the ball below the hole. If you're above the hole on some of these greens, you don't have a chance.”
Q: Who are you looking forward to seeing out there this week?
BC: “I've been to three of these in preparation for this week and there's a few movie stars out there. Fred Couples is a movie star. Peter Jacobsen is very, very entertaining. Another guy, if he's here, Fuzzy Zoeller. There's a lot of interaction with the crowd, though most of it will be before Thursday starts.”
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ML: “What I'm looking forward to is seeing these guys hit shots from where I usually do.”
Q: Is that possible? Don't you think Watson or Funk might be a little farther out than you guys?
ML: “The course will be longer than we usually play. Most of the members play it at 6,000 to 6,400 yards. The top players (at OCC) play it at 6,800. It's going to be set up at 6,800. They'll be playing it a little longer than most of us do, so their shots into the greens might be similar to ours.”
BC: “I think a lot of members are anxious to see these guys play hole No. 8 (477-yard par 4). We put up a new tee way back and the USGA said they're going to use it every day. It's dead into the south wind and kind of sneaky uphill. I played it that day with Peter Fowler and he hit driver and 3-wood onto the green. For a pro, that's something.”
Q: What's one shot you'd like to see these guys play?
MK: “The shot I'd like to see is the second shot from above the green on five. If you hit it long and miss the green, to hit that shot coming back. There's not much to work with.”
BC: “I'd say the second shot on No. 10 (494 yards) because we changed it from a par 5 to a 4 for the tournament. It's going to be a hard green for those guys to consistently hit.”
ML: “The 13th hole (312 yards, par 4). It's driveable, so I'd like to sit back there and watch them go for the green and try and make eagle.”
Q: This will be the first time that OCC has been accessible for most people. Is the membership excited about showing off the course? Has there been any grumbling about this?
BC: “The membership is really excited. They've bought into this like nothing else before. We have 240 members who have volunteered to work. The one thing about getting this five years ago, it gave the members time to plan, if they didn't want to be here or be part of it. Nobody got surprised, therefore we're not getting any negative feedback.”
ML: “I haven't heard anything. It's not like the Cox Classic, where it's an annual thing. It's a one-time deal.”
Q: Has there been any talk about going for another one?
ML: “There's been a little bit of discussion, but it's absolutely a one-time deal. We'll get through this first. The one thing I've noticed is, we have a great relationship with the USGA.”
Q: Des Moines is a similar market to Omaha, and the Senior Open was a huge hit and spawned a Champions Tour event. Do you expect the same reaction here?
ML: “It might make some sense. I went to that event in Des Moines and one of the reasons the USGA wanted to come here, and we wanted to host, was Des Moines was one of the biggest successes the Senior Open has ever had. We're hoping to have similar success.”
Q: OK, what score wins this week?
BC: “I think it will be under par. These guys are good. And like I said, the last thing we want is for these guys to feel horrible about the experience. We want to feel good about the course.”
MK: “If the greens are soft at all, there are going to be a lot more birdie putts. There will be five or six tough par 4s and some birdie holes. The par 5s are birdie holes. I think the hills are going to be a big surprise to them. For a lot of people who don't live here, when they think of Nebraska, they think of cornfields. If these guys think they're coming to a 6,600-yard cornfield ... ”
BC: “These guys are all in great shape, but I think walking the course for four days, it's going to be a physical test.”
Q: Last question. Who's your pick?
ML: “I'll go with Langer.”
MK: “Couples or Watson.”
BC: “I would pick Tom Lehman. But there's a lot of great players who could win this, somebody we aren't even thinking about. We can't wait to find out.”