Notes Bad Round Good Memories


2007 U.S. OpenOAKMONT, Pa. -- U.S. Senior Open champion Allen Doyle took quadruple bogey on his last hole for an 81, but the 58-year-old had no regrets playing the toughest test in golf against players young enough to be his son.
The Senior Open winner traditionally gets a spot in the field, although not all of them take it. Doyle was encouraged to play by his daughters, and one of them, Erin, caddied for him the second straight year. He missed the cut at Winged Foot a year ago.
'This can't take away from what I've done,' Doyle said.
The memories go beyond his Champions Tour career, which has been stellar. Doyle was devoted to amateur golf in his prime, although he rarely tried to qualify for the U.S. Open because he had limited resources. It was a good life, though, and he ran in fast company, such as a World Amateur Team event with Tiger Woods.
He also recalls playing with a young Phil Mickelson at the Sunnehanna, a prestigious amateur event in Pennsylvania.
'Phil wanted to play a practice round with me,' he said. 'We get to the fourth hole, a par 3, and I told him, 'Don't fool with the pin.''
He said he was paired with Lefty for 36 holes on a Saturday, and both times Mickelson tried to go at the flag, only to make bogey.
'I said, 'What didn't you understand about me telling you in the practice round not to go at the pin?'' Doyle remembered. 'He said, 'I thought I could hit the shot.' These kids were just kids. We had course knowledge. They had strong wills.'
Boo Weekley and Bubba Watson, alumni at tiny Milton High School in the Florida Panhandle, were in the same group for their U.S. Open debut and acquitted themselves nicely. Watson shot an even-par 70, Weekley a 72.
'We're not big with these bright lights and these big tournaments, so for us to be able to talk and see a familiar face, it's fun,' Watson said. 'We've never played together, I don't think.'
They live 20 miles apart, Watson claiming Bagdad as his residence, Weekley in Jay. Watson describes his hometown as having a post office, a few stop signs, an elementary school and 'good ol' Southern people.'
Did they make the home folks proud?
'A lot of people are rooting for us,' Weekley said. 'And a lot couldn't give a flying donkey about us.'
Bob Rittberger was on the practice green waiting for a miracle that he knew would never arrive. The assistant pro at Garden City Golf Club knew his hopes for playing in the U.S. Open ended 10 days ago with the worst kind of luck.
Rittberger was the fourth alternate at Oakmont. It should never have come to that.
He needed a par on the final hole of sectional qualifying at Century Country Club in New York, and his approach was so perfect that it hit the flag and ricocheted off the green. Unaware there was a sprinkler beneath his ball in the rough, he chipped poorly, then compounded the problem with a three-putt double bogey.
That allowed Ricky Barnes to capture the third and final spot.
As if he needed a reminder, when Rittberger pulled up at his hotel in Pittsburgh this week, Barnes was in the car in front of him.
'I've thought about it,' Rittberger said. 'But there's not a whole lot you can do.'
Alternates are not allowed to play practice rounds until they are in the field, and Rittberger really never had a chance. David Howell of England was the only player to withdraw this week.
Rittberger wound up settling for the driving range and the putting green. He also signed about 300 autographs, which is about 300 more than he has ever signed. And he kept a good attitude.
'You're dying to get out there,' he said. 'But it's just not your turn.'
No, Ben Curtis didn't lose a bet. Wearing that Steelers shirt and visor was his choice.
The lifelong Cleveland Browns fan makes no secret of his allegiance. But he knows better than to wear orange and brown in Pittsburgh, whose Steelers have as bitter a rivalry as they come with the Browns. So Curtis, who has a deal with Reebok to wear NFL team gear, broke out the hometown colors for the first round.
'You get used to it,' he said, sounding resigned. 'They were chanting 'Steelers' all day out there.'
Curtis made the mistake of wearing a Browns shirt a few years ago at the 84 Lumber Classic, which is played at the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, about 75 miles outside Pittsburgh. He got booed everywhere he went.
Last year, he bowed to the fans' wishes and wore a Steelers shirt. Lo and behold, he won the tournament.
'I might put Browns (gear) on Saturday,' he said. 'But not Sunday.'
There weren't many Oakmont Country Club members more excited about the U.S. Open than Bob Heltzel.
Heltzel, a longtime steel company executive, used to coach the golf team at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio. One of his former players, amateur Jason Kokrak, is in the field this week, and they played Oakmont together before tournament week.
'Being the father of five daughters and no sons, it was special playing a practice round with Jason at the U.S. Open,' Heltzel said, breaking into a smile. 'He's a young man with a lot of ability and a bright future as an individual and young man, let alone the golf aspect.'
Kokrak, the Ohio prep golfer of the year in 2003, just finished up at Xavier, where he was honorable mention All-America. He tied for first in his qualifying group to earn a spot in the Open, where he shot a 6-over 76 Thursday.
'When I first came to Oakmont, I played at the U.S. Amateur in 2003 and missed the cut,' he said. 'I walked off the golf course and said, `I guess I'm just going to have to make the Open in '07.'
And he's making the most of it. Heltzel walked the course with him during practice rounds, pointing out little trouble spots that players might not be aware of. Because Warren is a mere 90 minutes from Pittsburgh, Kokrak has a large cheering section. When the ball lipped out from the fairway on the par-4 17th, costing him an eagle, the cheers were as loud as if it had gone in.
'I have so much support here,' he said. 'I couldn't even tell you how many.'
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