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Published: Wednesday, 6/25/2003

Kite showers Inverness with compliments

Let's hope that the U.S. Senior Open, starting tomorrow at Inverness Club, plays host to a soap opera that we won't soon forget.

Let's hope the plot is thick and exciting, with a cast of characters capable of being the star of the show.

And, according to Inverness veteran Tom Kite, don't let the 2003 Senior Open be the last major championship played at Toledo's famous golf course.

“No question, this is awesome. This golf course is exactly what the USGA looks for. The PGA also,” Kite said yesterday. “I think this belongs in the [U.S. Open] rotation. This golf course is all-world.”

Golf is certainly a game that humbles its participants, and Kite was downright reverential in his praise of Inverness, where he has played two PGA Championships and one U.S. Open.

“This golf course is set up magnificent. The severity and size of these greens makes this a very demanding course. In a lot of respects this will be probably more difficult or certainly as difficult as what we saw at Olympia Fields,” the site of the U.S. Open two weeks ago.

Before yesterday's practice round, the 1992 U.S. Open champion talked openly about wanting to win his first Senior Open, after a couple of close calls, and the challenge presented by Inverness.

“Well, the first championship I played here ['79 U.S. Open] I missed the cut. I was so bummed out I think my wife and I stopped by Baskin-Robbins and probably consumed a whole turtle pie.

“I have not had great success here in major championships. I came in here one time having won at the Kemper [Open] the week before and did not play well during the championship.”

Kite, 53, makes for a nice story.

He has 19 PGA and seven Champions Tour victories, including a major title at the 2000 Tradition. He's a proven winner. He has played in the last three Senior Opens, shooting a combined 13-under par with a pair of third-place finishes.

None of that matters now, though. All that matters is what Kite does this week. He knows he has to overcome his Inverness barrier.

He is coming to Toledo with a different approach, a different mentality. He seems to have convinced himself that he's straightened out his swing and putting stroke, that his respect for Inverness has reinforced his resolve.

“I love golf courses with very small greens like this. It puts a premium on where there is not so much an emphasis on any one aspect of your game. You have to come with all your barrels loaded. I am looking forward to renewing a battle with this golf course because I feel like I'm playing better now than I have shown at Inverness.”

That remains to be seen. But in his prime Kite was a beast - the first player in PGA Tour history to reach $6 million, $7 million, $8 million and $9 million in career earnings.

Kite led the tour in career earnings for almost six years running. He was a member of seven Ryder Cup teams.

Does anyone remember Kite in his prime? It really wasn't all that long ago, and he'll hit the course tomorrow morning firmly believing that if anyone can conquer Inverness, he can.



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