I feel like a 15 handicap, said Frazar as he stood on the practice tee watching Hammerin Hank Keuhne blow a tee shot over the tall strand of trees beyond the range.
Kuehnes making his first appearance on the PGA Tour in nearly two years, and despite the shoulder injury that has slowed his progress, the 26-year-old newlyweds primed to take advantage of the sponsors exemption.
Im just as long as ever but I think Im hitting it straighter than ever, too, Kuehne told me.
The 1998 U.S. Amateur champ leads the Canadian Tour in earnings, and if he maintains a spot in the top three hell be exempted into the Bell Canadian Open and the Air Canada Championship. Hell also use a sponsors exemption at The International.
'Im looking forward to seeing where Im at, he said. Sober for seven years now, Kuehne, a recovering alcoholic, appears to have found a comfort zone. Hes loaded with talent, and if he can harness his tremendous power, he may soon be a star attraction on the PGA Tour.
Casey Martin, meanwhile, also received an invitation to play this week. Its been a tough year, he revealed. A January procedure on his leg went awry, and Casey spent a frightening week in a Eugene, Ore., hospital dealing with a dangerous infection.
Hes practiced hard in the last month in spite of the constant discomfort in his right leg. And he admitted to me that if things do not work out this year in terms of competitive golf, then hell have a difficult decision to make regarding his future. In other words, this may be his final year. Casey turns 30 on Sunday.
It was nearly a year ago that the Supreme Court ruled in his favor. And yes its a Craig Perks longshot, but how nice would it be if Casey found some magic and celebrated his 30th with a Sunday victory?
Frank Lickliter currently owns the Kemper title, yet has hardly rested on those laurels. In fact, Lickliter defends as a different golfer.
Ive made significant changes, he said. Lickliter felt that his game lacked diversity and that if he wanted to move to the elite level, hed have to change. The result is that hes able to hit the ball higher when he needs to as well as shape the ball both ways.
It feels good, he said, nodding confidently when I asked if he likes his chances this week.
Lickliter was the 12th professional to have captured their first tour victory at the Kemper Insurance Open. Thats a group that includes Greg Norman, who began a thrilling run through the mid-1980s with a win at the Kemper in 1984.
I remember we played at Congressional, said Norman, looking fit and relaxed. It was really hot, too. But its a nice memory.
Normans excited about his new project in Ireland, a course called Dunebeg. I dont think Ill ever get another piece of property as good as this, he gushed.
As for the state of his game, Norman didnt rule out a Nick Price-like return to the winners circle.
The field here also includes Fred Couples, Justin Leonard, Jose Maria Olazabal, Tom Lehman, Chris DiMarco and Charles Howell III.
Howell played well here a year ago and is a decent choice to stretch the streak of first-time winners at the Kemper to four. So, too, is Frazar, who contended at the Memorial a week ago. Back on the practice tee, I asked the likable Texan if Kuehne was longer than Tiger.
He paused and said, You know Im not sure because I dont think Ive ever seen Tiger really let it all go.
Looking over at Kuehne, Frazar wondered, You longer than Tiger?
Kuehne smiled, then remarked, Last time we played I was.
Kuehene then settled in and softly hit a little sand wedge, aware it seems that his golfing fate ultimately will be determined more by that club than the one that made Harrison Frazar feel like a 15 handicap.