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Don Pooley came to Toledo this week to defend the U.S. Senior Open title he won last year at Caves Valley Golf Club in suburban Baltimore. His heart is in it all the way, but yesterday some other body parts were not cooperating.
Pooley, who is still on the mend following shoulder surgery in January, was unable to play a practice round at Inverness Club yesterday due to a sore lower back.
“My shoulder is probably 90 percent, but unfortunately my lower back gave me problems this morning,'' Pooley said. “So I guess I'm an old man - I don't know, maybe I'm falling apart. But the big thing is that I haven't been able to practice.''
Pooley, 51, said he has had two back surgeries over his career, but has managed to keep playing.
“I've had a lot of problems with it, but none that have kept me from playing in a golf tournament. It's frustrating, especially since I really wanted to get out there today and prepare for [tomorrow]. You want to do everything you can to give yourself a chance to do well once the tournament starts.''
Pooley is seeing University of Toledo team physician Roger Kruse in an effort to get his back straightened out.
“The lack of practice concerns me the most,'' Pooley said. “I hadn't been able to play 18 holes until a few weeks ago. I think I'm finally swinging full speed at it, but sometimes I wonder. That will pick up with play, and I haven't played that much.''
Pooley, who failed to make the cut at the Senior PGA Championship three weeks ago, said he has maintained a positive attitude despite his physical struggles.
“I'm nowhere near where I would like to be, I can tell you that. I have been playing for about a month and I was hoping to come back in full gear and playing well, but it didn't happen. It's going to take some time. Hopefully by Thursday [tomorrow] it will be OK, but there are a few holes in my game that aren't there yet.''
PACKAGED TICKETS: Under the format used for the Senior Open, tickets have been available only in full-week packages that included one pass for each of the seven days of the event - three practice days and the four-day tournament. No individual tickets or weekend-only tickets were sold. Grounds passes cost $125 for the week, with an upgraded package that included rights to use the air conditioned S.P. Jermain Pavilion at Inverness Club costing $250.
Tournament director Judd Silverman said he felt the format offered the best value for the golf fan. “If you compare that price to the cost of attending other men's major championships or other sporting events in the area - for example the Detroit Red Wings - this is a very good value,'' Silverman said.
The individual package cost breaks down to about $17 per day, and the tickets are transferable. Silverman said there has been very little negative reaction to the fact that single-day tickets were not an option.
“The way this was set up, each person who purchased a ticket package received seven individual tickets that just have to be used on the day on the face of the ticket - you could give them to seven individual people, split them between two people, or do it any way that worked best,'' he said. “We think that ended up making the tournament available to more fans.''
Silverman said between 8,000 and 9,000 of the regular-grounds-ticket packages have been sold, and about 5,000 of the S.P. Jermain premium ticket packages have been sold.
“I think one of the reasons we have seen such huge crowds out here on Monday and Tuesday is that if people buy the tickets, and they can't come for a practice day, they are going to give it to someone and that person is going to come out,'' Silverman said. “It looks like a weekend round in the tournament out here right now.''
GATOR GUY: Stewart “Buddy'' Alexander from Gainesville, Fla., the head men's golf coach at the University of Florida, is one of the 29 amateurs in the field for the U.S. Senior Open at Inverness Club.
As the 1986 U.S. Amateur champion, Alexander is one of a number of exempt amateurs playing in the Open. He decided not to push it during yesterday's practice round, and called it quits about 3:30 after playing just nine holes.
“We've got seven days to play out here, so you want to kind of pace yourself,'' Alexander said. “We get another opportunity tomorrow to get acquainted with the golf course, so we'll cut back a little today. I've had some trouble with my back, so I think it's best not to overdo it right now.''
Alexander, whose wife Joan is his caddie for the Open, completed his practice round by hitting a dozen or so balls from the trap on the left front of the No. 9 green, and then knocked a half-dozen putts across the top section of the small, undulating green.
“You want to use the time you have out here to try and figure out how to approach these greens, where you want to be off of the tees, and where you expect the pin placements might be,'' Alexander said.
The 50-year-old Alexander does have a certain degree of familiarity with Inverness, since his Gator team played in Toledo last fall in the Inverness Intercollegiate Invitational tournament.
“That helped, because you get a pretty good feel for the place in something like that, but for a guy from Florida there is a lot to adjust to up here,'' Alexander said. “The grass is very different, the green speed is different, and even the sand is a lot different than what we see in Florida. You want to make the adjustments for all of that before you start the tournament, so we'll work some more on that tomorrow.''
Alexander, who has won two NCAA championships in the last 10 years with the Gators, has coached at Florida for 16 of his 25 years as a college golf coach, with stints at LSU and his alma mater, Georgia Southern, before coming to Gainesville.
MAJOR WATSON: The U.S. Senior Open at Inverness is the third stop in an unusual string of six straight majors for Tom Watson. Watson, 53, started his run of majors-only at the Senior PGA Championship and followed that with the U.S. Open. After this week's Senior Open, Watson will take a week off before playing in the Ford Senior Players Championship, then the British Open and finally the Senior British Open. Watson finished second in last year's U.S. Senior Open, losing a playoff to champion Don Pooley on the fifth extra hole.
HOT STUFF: After a couple of days of temperatures in the 90s, and more heat and humidity forecast for today, the first aid staff at the U.S. Senior Open is stressing its list of common sense measures for fans to take when facing this kind of heat.
Fans are encouraged to wear light-weight, light-colored clothing, a hat or cap, and use sunscreen every couple of hours. It is a good idea to drink plenty of water both prior to your arrival at the course and while you are there. Caffeine and alcohol use should be kept to a minimum since both tend to dehydrate you.
Other tips include limiting your exertion in the middle part of the day, and avoiding the use of cologne or perfume since they will attract bees.
There are three first aid centers on the course and fans are urged to seek one of them out if they experience dizziness, feel light-headed or nauseous, or are weak or overly fatigued.