‘Drive it in the fairway; stay below the hole’ offers Salem’s genial PGA pro Kevin Wood
By BILL BROTHERTON
No male golfer has ever finished under par during a USGA championship at Salem Country Club. Bruce Fleisher, the 2001 Senior Open champion, shot a 2-under 68 in the final round to finish at even par. Dale Morey, who captured the 1977 Senior Men’s Amateur at the Donald Ross-designed gem 4 and 3 over Lewis Oehmig, was medalist at 143, 3-over par.
Kevin Wood, entering his 18th year as head PGA professional at Salem, thinks that will change during this U.S. Senior Open.
“I imagine they’ll break par this year,” said Wood, a Lowell native who grew up in Beverly. “It’s a different 50 year old today. In better shape physically and still playing well. Just look at Steve Stricker; he’s still a strong competitor on the PGA Tour.”
John Daly, David Toms and Jose Maria Olazabal are other Champions Tour rookies expected to challenge for the title at Salem June 26 – July 2.
What advice does Wood, who will attempt to qualify on June 8 in Tennessee for the Senior Open Championship, have for competitors?
“You’ve gotta drive it in the fairway. If you can’t control the ball off the tee, you can’t put it in the right place on the green. The rough is tough. If you start missing left or right, you’re going to be in trouble.
“And going long is not good on this course,” said Wood about the Donald Ross-designed gem, which will play at just over 6,800 yards for the championship. Two of the four par 5s – the 11th (#2 for the championship) and the 8th hole (championship #17) will be par 4s for the pros. Both are a smidge shy of 500 yards.
“The greens will be challenging. But these players are good at adapting very quickly and they’re used to playing undulating greens,” added Wood. “Staying below the hole is key.”
Wood said a few players teed it up at Salem last year during Ryder Cup week. They all learned being above the hole can be disastrous.
“The greens have been brought back to their original specs. Squaring them off makes them more like what Donald Ross intended. Actually, the 16th and 17th greens have been reduced a bit in size. There’s a lot more runup, more false fronts. And some pin placements will be new.
Summing up his advice to the competitors: “drive it straight, stay out of the rough, don’t go long on the greens. If a player does that and putts well, he’ll be in the hunt on the final day.”
Photo: Spenser Hasak