Larry Mize had just trudged up the last ski slope Monday at Omaha Country Club, then got hit with a question fit for a Masters champion.
When it comes to hills, Omaha Country Club or Augusta National?
“I think it's hillier than Augusta,'' Mize said.
Then he turned to his left and asked, “What do you think?”
Bernhard Langer nodded. And he has two green jackets.
The greats of golf eligible for AARP membership started to roll into Omaha and out to the U.S. Senior Open course Monday for the first of three days of practice rounds.
Mize, Langer, Fred Funk and Hale Irwin were among those who played Monday. Tuesday's wave of newcomers is expected to include Rocco Mediate, Steve Elkington, Peter Jacobsen and, later in the day, Fred Couples.
More than 8,000 spectators were on the grounds Monday. Almost every other stop on the Champions Tour would love to get that many for a Friday or Saturday tournament round.
“Tremendous, absolutely fantastic,'' said Gary Koch, the NBC golf commentator who made it through qualifying to play this week. “I had a chance to talk to (the USGA's) Tim Flaherty two weeks ago when we were doing the U.S. Women's Open broadcast and he said, 'Get ready. There's going to be a ton of people there, there's going to be great corporate support and everybody is looking forward to the U.S. Senior Open coming to Omaha.'
“From what I've seen today, all of that is correct.''
The sun barely was over the horizon when the gates opened. Mike Carlson was one of the first ticket-holders in.
“I want to see most all the players,'' said Carlson, from Council Bluffs. “I haven't been here and I want to give everything a look.”
Brett and Jessica Wobken, from Seward, Neb., were early shoppers in the merchandise tent.
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|See hole illustrations, insight from course pros, photos and video from every hole and more in our Senior Open course guide.|
“We wanted to be here before it gets too hot,'' Brett said. “The earlier the better.”
Volunteers in their lime-green shirts, however, outnumbered spectators for the first several hours. Funk was playing with Esteban Toledo and Don Thames in the first group to tee off on No. 1 at 7 a.m. and they didn't have any company until the fifth green.
By late morning, the grandstands at the range and first tee were getting to be popular places and the galleries stuck around until late afternoon. Langer and Mize finished their practice round with a father and son sitting in the 18th grandstand waiting to ask for autographs and another spectator walking along.
“I love the course,'' Mize said. “The rough is extremely tough.”
Corey Pavin, the 1995 U.S. Open champion, said he had a flight Monday morning from his home in Los Angeles so “I'm tired just from flying, let alone walking the course.”
“Hopefully, it won't rain because the ground will stay firm and the course will play harder, too, which is good,'' he said. “It is a good walk, and it was pretty hot today.
“But I love elevation change on golf courses. It makes you think about what clubs and how it's going to play uphill, downhill, sidehill lies. It makes it a lot more fun to play.”
Spectators, too, add to the players' enjoyment.
“It's always nice to have people out, and especially on a Monday,'' Pavin said. “I figured Omaha would receive the tournament very well.”