NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. - Andy North knows a thing or two about rising to a challenge.
North spent 20 years on the PGA Tour and won three times. But two of them came in United States Opens, putting him in the history books with Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and 15 others who have multiple wins in the national championship.
Not only did he twice win the ultimate American-based major, but he accomplished it on two of the nation's toughest courses - Cherry Hills in Denver in 1978 and Oakland Hills near Detroit in '85.
Now, at age 53, North is looking forward to his next Open on another of the country's tougher traditional courses, the Senior Open at Inverness Club on June 26-29.
“I think Inverness is going to be a wonderful venue for the Open,” North said. “It has short, tighter holes and some truly great holes back in that one corner of the property. It's an exciting course.”
North, who serves as an ESPN golf analyst when not competing on the Champions Tour, is a student of the game and its history. For example, without prompting he knew that Inverness was the first club to open its clubhouse and locker room facilities to pro golfers at the 1920 U.S. Open.
“What makes playing a course like Inverness special is that we love to go back to the places we played 25 years ago,” North said. “There's a lot of history there, going back to what they did at the 1920 Open, then with Byron Nelson and so many others.”
Nelson, golf's senior gentleman who, in his 90s, still refers to Inverness as his “home course,” served as the club's head golf professional from 1940-44.
And while he is one of the game's legends, Nelson came up one short of North in the Open title department.
“The U.S. Open was always special to me,” North said. “I won two, but I also had a lot of other good finishes. I always felt it was a good opportunity for me because I was a steady player and could play under control.
“I loved the fact that in an Open par was a good score. It has gotten to the point where you shoot 68 and you're in 29th place or something like that. I like it when a solid player can shoot 71 or 72 and still have a decent shot.”
That has always been the case at Inverness, where par has never been bettered over 72 holes in four U.S. Opens.
Many of the current seniors played in the last Open at Inverness in 1979, as well as in PGA Championships in 1986 and '93.
Few have seen the course since a multitude of changes, mostly in length and bunkering, were orchestrated by Toledo-based course designer Arthur Hills.
Fuzzy Zoeller is one of the exceptions. Zoeller, who opened defense of his PGA Senior Championship with a 1-under 69 yesterday at Aronimink Country Club, got in nine holes during a visit to Toledo two weeks ago and had a variety of reactions.
“It's gorgeous, but the greens are brutal,” Zoeller said. “They're so small, dinky and have a lot of undulation. They are really tough. Also, I had a very difficult time getting my angles set right. It impressed me as a left-to-right type of course. Golf courses are like people, they have different personalities. There are some you can play and feel good on and there are courses that will just have you handcuffed all week.”
North, who had an opening-round 74 yesterday at Aronimink, rarely felt handcuffed on Open courses and is looking forward to another challenge.
“You have to do all the normal things,” he said when asked the keys to handling an Open competition. “You have to drive in the fairways, hit good iron shots and make putts.
“But even more importantly, you have to have patience. You have to understand that a bad shot or a bogey won't kill you because Open courses are so tough that everybody will have trouble.”