After what hit us overnight, who in town doesn’t have a storm story?
At the U.S. Senior Open, Kevin Kraft’s tale was the topper. He resorted to sleeping in his car — in the Omaha Country Club parking lot — after being evacuated from a badly damaged west Omaha hotel.
Kraft said he bolted upright in bed in his room about 12:10 Saturday morning. The Aloft hotel at 180th Street and West Dodge Road was shaking.
“Like, it’s only four stories tall, so it seemed really strange that the whole thing would be wobbling, and we quickly scrambled, got to our phones and saw what was coming. It was a big red blob (on radar).”
With alarms and sirens sounding, he and caddie John Wilkins went to the basement with other guests for a few minutes until it was verified that there wasn’t a tornado threat.
When they returned to the top floor, water was coming through the ceiling fixtures. Soon hotel personnel came around to say Kraft and Wilkins “could stay if we wanted to, or go, but they didn't have any place to put us. So obviously, we were just going to stay,’’ he said, “And then the alarm starts going off again.
“If you've ever been in a hotel with a fire alarm going off, it is brutal on the head. So I went downstairs to see what was going to happen, whether they could turn this thing off or not since we were plan to go stay, and the whole lobby was starting to flood. I mean, water was just pouring in from all over the place.
“I happened to run into the poor woman that was running the front desk, and, I mean, she looked visibly shaken. Who wouldn't be? A packed house and everything possible going wrong.”
Kraft said the woman was saying the hotel was doing a mandatory evacuation. At 1:15 a.m. After four days, it takes awhile to repack and multiple trips to the car. Outside, Wilkins discovered that two large metal pieces from the hotel’s roof had pierced the back bumper of his car, all the way to the car’s frame.
It was now past 2:30. With some effort, Wilkins’ car was drivable.
“So I hung around there for a while, just not knowing what exactly I wanted to do,’’ Kraft said. “About five o'clock, I went and got some caffeine and headed up here.”
He got a couple hours of sleep before warming up and playing. He shot 72 to be at 7-over 217 after three rounds.
“I'm a working guy, right? This is all total bonus to me. I'm a club-fitter, I work for great company, I got a great job, and they're very gracious in allowing me to pursue the tournaments that I want to play in, and this is great,’’ Kraft said. “This is my first professional major. I've been a professional since 1995, I've gone to the U.S. Open locals and sectionals 15 times and never gotten in.
“I turned 50 in February, and on the first shot, I get into this one, and to make the cut was awesome. I had three goals for this week: Don't make an ass out of myself. I think I'm OK there. Make the cut. Definitely got that one. And I was hoping to lose 10 pounds. But it's cooled off maybe a little too much to lose 10 pounds. So we'll see. Maybe the stress will kick some pounds off.”
When Kraft arrived at the course, he saw that the cleanup operation was underway.
“It was heavy with debris,’’ Kraft said. “They definitely had been at it for a while.
“This crew is just amazing. For them to get this golf course in the condition that it's in right now, oh my goodness, I mean, fantastic. This facility is so good. The golf course itself is just awesome. It's hard, but it's fair, greens are very challenging, and honestly it drains pretty well.”
“I guess we didn't get, like, the most rain up here. I think it all fell on my hotel.”
Steve Flesch slept through it all.
“I guess the side of the hotel we're on in downtown, my son and I didn't even know we got rain,’’ Flesch said. “We knew nothing other than we got the text that said there's a three-hour delay.
“But my buddy Paul Goydos, who's on the other side of the hotel, said he thought his window was going to get blown in from the rain.”
On the course, a tree between the 13th green and 16th tee was uprooted. A large tree fell in front of the 15th green. Numerous other trees had major limb damage. TV camera towers toppled over. Hospitality suites were in disarray.
It took chain saws and a lot of volunteer help, but the course was ready for play at 10:15 a.m. The round got in, even when it didn’t look good at daybreak or during the afternoon’s severe thunderstorm.