Steve Jones hits a shot from the fairway on the 9th hole Thursday during the first round of the U.S. Senior Open at the Inverness Club.
Inverness Club no longer features the same course that Bruce Lietzke played on and bested eight years ago for his only major victory at the 2003 U.S. Senior Open.
It's definitely not the same course where Bob Tway produced one of the greatest shots in golf history when he holed out from a greenside bunker on the 72nd hole to win the 1986 PGA Championship.
And it's most certainly not the same layout Hale Irwin faced when he shot even par to claim the 1979 U.S. Open.
Memories fade over time but in this case Inverness has a lot more bite -- with some help from Mother Nature -- than many in the field of 156 at the Senior Open recall as they prepared this week for the stiffest test in senior golf, which begins Thursday when the first groups tee off on holes one and 10 at 7:30 a.m.
"Everything appears to be the same until I got out on the golf course," Lietzke said Wednesday. "It's really going to play a lot different than it did in '03."
Inverness may end up playing differently every day of the Senior Open, depending on the unpredictable weather of late.
Course superintendant Steve Anderson had Inverness in championship condition last week, and then torrential rain and wind damage Friday and Saturday set him and the course back.
Working 17 hours a day since then, Anderson and his 44-person grounds crew had Inverness close to championship caliber Wednesday and were hoping for the storms to stay away.
"Hopefully Mother Nature will cooperate, and we don't get any more rain," Anderson said. "That's really the only way [the course] is going to firm up to the point we'd really like it to."
The United States Golf Association attempts to have its U.S. Open courses ready to hoist a championship on the Monday preceding the start of a tournament, so the competitors have a chance to practice and acclimate themselves.
That obviously did not occur this week, and the USGA set a target to achieve championship conditions by Thursday.
But if there is much more rain, which is forecast for the next two days, it could put a wrench in those plans.
"Steve Anderson, the golf course superintendant, and his crew have really worked tirelessly," said Jeff Hall, USGA managing director of rules and competitions.
A foursome including Peter Jacobsen, center, putt on the 17th green during a U.S. Senior Open practice round Wednesday at Inverness Club.
"Firm and fast is what the USGA is interested in when setting up its golf courses for each of its championships. "Mother Nature has had an impact on that thus far and looks like she may want to continue to have an impact as the week goes on."
Anderson and his crew have already been double-rolling and triple-mowing the small, undulating greens to speed them up and compensate for last weekend's rain, so there's not much more he can do.
The USGA has also made it clear it won't overreact.
"There was some discussion at Congressional [at the 2011 U.S. Open], were we going to react to Mother Nature and the softness of the golf course by making it more difficult," said Tom O'Toole, USGA vice president and chairman of the championship committee. "We're not going to change our philosophy and setup to try to make the golf course more difficult because we think it's more receptive."
Even if the greens can't be kept at their intended speeds -11.6 on the stimpmeter -- that won't necessarily mean lower scoring.
At 7,143 yards, Inverness is the third longest setup in Senior Open history, and it played even longer during practice rounds this week because the course still held so much water.
"The fairways are not bouncing. There's almost no roll," Lietzke said. "This golf course is playing dramatically different off the tee. You're required to hit a lot more drivers than in the past and you're going to be hitting a lot more utility clubs [onto the green]."
Lietzke recalled in 2003 when the course was firmer and faster, he hit mostly 3-woods and utility clubs off the tee. That year on the par-5 8th, Lietzke hit a 5-iron on his second shot and eventually made eagle.
But during a practice round Wednesday on the same hole, Lietzke hit a driver off the tee, then laid up with a 3-iron and followed that with a 9-iron onto the green.
"The difference in the fairways is pretty dramatic," he said.
Also raising some eyebrows this week is the new re-routing of the course. The front nine starts with Nos. 1 and 2, then jumps to holes 12-16 from the normal club setup, and finishes with Nos. 8 and 9. The back nine, therefore, starts with Nos. 10 and 11, jumps to the club's 3-7, and finishes with 17 and 18.
"I'm all confused. I really am," said Toledo native John Cook, an eight-time winner on the Champions Tour who mistakenly headed toward the club's third hole after walking off the green at No. 2 during a practice round.
Confusion isn't the goal, but a stern challenge is.
"With the rerouting of the holes, the backside, starting at No. 12 is a pretty unbelievable golf course," Tway said. "Twelve, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 are maybe the hardest stretch of holes that I've played.
"There's no letup. It's going to be a very, very tough test."
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