SAMMAMISH, Wash. – Walking up the final hole at Sahalee Country Club on Thursday in the U.S. Senior Open, John Vaccaro didn’t really care that he was 10-over par, 15 strokes behind the leader after 18 holes.
What mattered was he was inside the ropes soaking in the polite applause.
“It’s a lifetime achievement,” Vaccaro said. “If I had to rent a jet I would be here.”
His achievement was getting here. Two alternates had to pass up the spot before he got the call, Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. in his office in Albany, N.Y. He had to get to Seattle the next morning for an 8:45 a.m. tee time.
“I’m 100 percent all the way,” Vaccaro said. “I got to make my best effort to get my butt out there. How many people get to play in this thing? It’s such an honor.”
He made it to the airport just in time to catch the last flight out, but the plane was delayed for two hours. He reached Chicago at 8:15 p.m., five minutes before his scheduled connection. Fortunately, that was delayed, too.
He arrived in Seattle at 1:30 a.m. and got to his hotel at 3 a.m., but never slept.
During the same time, his younger brother, Joe, was making his way from Sarasota, Fla., to Seattle to serve as his caddie.
“He called me and said, ‘You going?’ I said, ‘Yes, I am.’ It’s emotional, I tell you,” said Joe, eyes tearing up. “This is big for us. We’ve dreamed about this.”
John Vaccaro had to use his 30-year-old Ping irons stored in his garage because his regular clubs are noncompliant. He couldn’t remember the last time he played with the clubs.
He also had never played Sahalee before and had no practice on it. The only thing he could do “just to hit some balls on the range to see how far I could hit the old clubs—and which direction.”
“You’re coming to a USGA event and you’re saying, ‘I’m pulling an old set out of the garage.’ That’s the way it was,” Joe Vaccaro said.
He was paired with Bruce Vaughn, the first-round leader at 4-under 66.
John started fine, with a birdie on his second hole and was even par after five. Then a double-bogey led to his decline. He finished with an 80 and is highly unlikely to make the cut.
“I’m going to soak it all in (Friday),” John Vaccaro added. “I m going to enjoy the heck out of it. I don’t care if I shoot 90 or 70. I just going do my best, hit some good shots and have fun.”
JACKSON AGAIN: For the second year in a row, amateur Tim Jackson found himself in the hunt after day one of the U.S. Senior Open. Jackson fired a 2-under 68, leaving him two shots behind first-day leader Bruce Vaughn.
“My whole golf schedule this year was set around this one week,” Jackson said. “So I know it’s just another event for these guys but for me, this is a big deal for me.”
Jackson kept his ball out of trouble off the tee on the tree-lined course and put himself in good positions most of the day. Jackson only missed one fairway, the par-4 12th hole, when his drive leaked into the trees.
“We didn’t get a signal so I hit a provisional and luckily it was just 2 feet clear of one of those big trees and I could just kind of hit a 4-iron and bleed it down the fairway, kind of down there to get a good number for a wedge,” Jackson said.
He made the putt to save his par and keep him at 2 under.
“It’s really the first good putt I hit all day,” Jackson said. “My speed was sort of off. I was giving the greens a little more credit as far as the speed goes, but that was a big pick me up for sure.”
The Germantown, Tenn., player played in just two amateur events leading up to his second go at the Senior Open.
A year ago, with his son on the bag, Jackson was the surprise co-leader after opening with a 66 at Crooked Stick in Carmel, Ind. He followed it up with a 67 to take the outright lead into the weekend.
“Having some experience before, it doesn’t change anything,” Jackson said. “I’ll be nervous. I’ll be antsy and that’s the way it is.”
CHIP SHOTS: Tom Kite, who shot a 2-over 72, had a flash of brilliance over two holes. He made a 25-foot putt from off the green for par on No. 6, then holed out from 141 yards on the seventh for an eagle. … South Smith withdrew because of a back injury. He was 9 over after 10 holes. … Pat Diesu had the worst round of the day, a 21-over 91.