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Published: Sunday, 7/24/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

COMMENTARY

Major hassle

Back-to-back biggies rough senior schedule

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST
Russ Cochran makes a shot Saturday at the Senior British Open, where he is tied for the lead after three rounds. Cochran and others will have to head for Toledo for another senior major this week. Russ Cochran makes a shot Saturday at the Senior British Open, where he is tied for the lead after three rounds. Cochran and others will have to head for Toledo for another senior major this week.
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Later today, the fun begins for many of the golfers making their way to Toledo for this week's U.S. Senior Open at Inverness Club.

Well, fun may not be exactly the right word.

Thirty-two of the players headed for Toledo made the cut in the Senior British Open at Walton Heath Golf Club in Surrey, England. They'll complete play in that event this afternoon.

If a golfer finishes early enough he might catch one of the last dinner-time flights out of Heathrow or Gatwick airports -- Surrey is southwest of London -- and cross the pond for a mid-evening (thanks to the time change) landing in Toronto, New York City, Newark, Boston, Miami, or Charlotte. Good luck with Sunday night connections to the Midwest.

Others will make the trip tomorrow. The first leg is about a 6 1/2- hour flight to the east coast of the United States, if headwinds are favorable, longer if they're not. Then there is layover time, then a connection to Detroit, most likely. At least that's the case for those traveling commercially.

Regardless of how or when they make the trip, don't expect to see many of those guys showing up for Monday practice rounds at Inverness. Tuesday morning might be optimistic too.

This is the fourth straight year -- and, hopefully, the last -- the two senior major championships have been played in consecutive weeks with an ocean between them for golfers to navigate. In 2008, the scene shifted from Scotland to Colorado Springs; in '09, it was England to Indianapolis, and a year ago it was that always popular Scotland-to-Seattle jaunt.

Amazingly, considering the travel, the pressure of competition, and having to fight considerable fatigue, Bernhard Langer won both the Senior British and U.S. Senior championships in 2010.

It didn't make him a fan of the scheduling, though.

"To be honest, I'm one player who's not extremely happy that we play back-to-back majors," Langer said during a recent visit to Toledo. "Plus, for those of us who also play in the regular British Open the week before [the British Senior] that's three majors in a row. That's a very difficult stretch."

Six golfers from the Champions Tour, including Langer, played in the British Open at Royal St. George's two weeks ago and were in the British Senior Open field at Walton Heath. Four of them -- Mark Calcavecchia, Tom Lehman, Mark O'Meara, and Langer -- are expected to be at Inverness.

Last summer, Langer's 5-under-par total at Carnoustie in Scotland was good for a one-shot win over Corey Pavin. He followed with four rounds in the 60s at Sahalee Country Club to win the U.S. Senior Open by three strokes.

"I feel blessed to have won two major championships back-to-back; that doesn't happen very often," Langer said.

Especially considering the logistics involved in getting from one to the other, something similar to what many golfers will repeat to make an appearance at Inverness.

"They're making a great effort to get to Toledo and be here in time for a couple practice rounds, and we appreciate that," said Judd Silverman, local tournament director for the U.S. Senior Open. "I know if the players had their way they wouldn't be playing back-to-back major championships, that's for sure. It sounds as if it will change, that the United States Golf Association will be changing the Senior Open date."

The 2012 Senior Open will be held a little more than 100 miles north of Toledo at Indianwood Golf and Country Club in Lake Orion, Mich.

According to a USGA fact sheet, the dates will be July 12-15, placing it immediately before both of the British events on the schedule. Seniors Opens to be played in Omaha in 2013 and in Edmond, Okla., in 2014 are also scheduled prior to the two British Opens.

But that's in the future. In the meantime, 32 golfers, golf bags, luggage and, in some cases family members and caddies, will have to navigate the 3,800 miles between the 18th green at Walton Heath and the No. 1 tee at Inverness in the most expedient fashion possible.

Mike Koch, the transportation coordinator for the Senior Open, said he has more than 30 pick-ups scheduled for tomorrow, most of them at Metro Airport near Detroit. And that follows 24 arrivals that were scheduled at Metro today.

"The list is pretty fluid; we still don't have details on all the arrival times," Koch said. "There will be a lot of pick-ups and a lot of luggage. Some of these players have been overseas for a couple weeks. Some have family with them. So, all that luggage can be a challenge. We'll pack it all in and then we'll cross our fingers that the weather's good and the construction back-ups aren't too bad."

Koch, a self-declared "professional volunteer" from St. Louis who is working his 18th major golf event as a transportation specialist since 1997, has a volunteer staff of some 120 people to help shuttle players from the airport to their hotels and/or to Inverness to pick up their courtesy cars. A week from now, they'll reverse the process.

At least the golfers should be comfortable. Lexus is a corporate partner with the USGA, so they're being shuttled in Lexus SUVs and all the courtesy cars are provided by Lexus.

After a trip like that, a little luxury seems fair.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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