Long odds to make Senior Open
All 79 golfers who tee it up in the U.S. Senior Open sectional qualifying today at High Point Country Club’s Willow Creek course face long odds.
The numbers aren’t in their favor because only two will advance to play in the actual tournament July 11-14 at Omaha Country Club in Nebraska.
Even with the chance of making it so slim, the lure of playing in the national championship for golfers over 50 is worth the tall challenge according to Rich Cloninger, who has beaten the odds twice by making it out of the qualifying rounds and will be back at Willow Creek today after tying for second in last week’s National Senior Amateur Hall of Fame Tournament.
“It’s worth throwing it out there and seeing what sticks,” Cloninger said. “It’s a dream for amateurs to make the tournament. It’s likely that 12-15 amateurs will make it and they all be guys who have had good amateur careers.”
Of those in the Willow Creek sectional, 41 or just over half are amateurs. Most of the bigger names on the Champions Tour for seniors were exempted from qualifying, leaving other Tour regulars scattered among 34 sectional qualifying sites.
The most notable pro in the Willow Creek field is David Eger of Charlotte, who is 36th on the Champions Tour money list. Others include Neal Lancaster of Smithfield, who is 65th on the money list), John Inman of Durham (121st) and Marc Ferry of France (115th).
“There is good competition,” Cloninger said. “There’s eight or nine who have played in the Open before and there will be three or four pros. You can look down the list and pretty much know who you will have to beat. You know you have to play good and playing for two spots, you have to play real good.”
The stress is so great in qualifying because of the small margin for error that playing in the Open was easier for Cloninger, who has missed qualifying by a shot three times.
“It’s harder to get in than to play in the Open,” Cloninger said.
Cloninger thinks 3-or 4-under-par on Willow Creek’s par 72 layout will be needed to advance.
“That doesn’t mean you have to play aggressively all the time,” Cloninger said. “You have to pick your spots. Par can be your friend at times. But 3- or 4-under is a doable thing if you are hitting it good around here.”
Willow Creek club pro Jim Brotherton and amateur Mike Bivins are the only two entrants from High Point. Play begins at 8:30 a.m. with groups going off the No.1 and No. 10 tees.