SAMMAMISH - A jubilant J.R. Roth held up his hands after sinking a long, sidewinding putt for birdie on the 18th green at Sahalee Country Club, waiting for a hearty embrace from his caddie, Rod Pattan.
Minutes later, the 52-year-old Michigan native was rebuked by his close friend as he attempted to embellish the legend of the final shot.
“Hey, Rod, how long was that putt on 18?” Roth asked Pattan, who was standing just outside the locker room.
“Thirty-five feet,” said Pattan, a military doctor – and statistics nut.
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“Seemed longer,” Roth told a small group of reporters. “I was going to say 50. He knows. … He writes it down.”
The important number Friday was 66 – as in 4-under-par 66 – which gave Roth, a longtime club professional, the day’s best round at the 31st U.S. Senior Open.
It also left him knocking on the door of championship contention. He sits at 1-under 139 at the midway point, two strokes behind leader Bernard Langer. The two will play in the final group today.
“If you’ve never won golf tournaments before, then you don’t know what the pressure is like,” Roth said. “I’ve won plenty of golf tournaments. I’m just going to play. I’m just going to play, that’s all.”
Roth’s track record as a longtime head professional at Flint (Mich.) Country Club was legendary. He won the 1993 PGA Professional National Championship. He played in five PGA Championships.
In 2008, he dabbled as a part-timer on the Champions Tour. He had a pair of top-25 finishes. No quite good enough to make a living, so he went back to Michigan.
Unable to find a job, he was hired as the head professional at San Juan Country Club in Farmington, N.M., last winter, and moved his family to the Southwest.
“My boys (Justin and Jeff) work there for me,” Roth said. “It’s really tough on my daughters – they’re in ninth grade and 11th grade. That’s a tough, tough age. But … after spending all those years in Michigan, I couldn’t find a job. I couldn’t beg for a job. So I was just fortunate enough to get this opportunity.”
And this one, too, at Sahalee CC, in just his second United States Golf Association event – and first since the 1975 U.S. Junior Amateur.
Olin Browne was on the driving range before his round when the epoxy on his pitching wedge came loose, putting the club out of service.
So, he played with 13 clubs – and shot an even-par 70.
On short wedge approaches, he either hit a sand wedge from the back of his stance, or a soft 9-iron.
“Seattle is a big city,” Browne said. “I’m sure they’ve got somebody who can put that thing together. I’ll find it, not a big deal.”
A rowdy group of friends and family were hopeful that Ocean Shores’ Jerry Johnson could turn around his U.S. Senior Open.
And he did – just too late.
Once at 15-over, Johnson played his final 12 holes in 3-under – and shot a 2-over 72 Friday.
“I just let go, and got into a rhythm,” said Johnson, who missed the cut by four strokes. “I’m kind of a rhythm player anyway, and when I’m out of it, I can hit some God-awful bad shots – and did in the first 27 holes. And then I got it going, and got it rolling.”
The highlight was a near-holeout for eagle on the par-4 third with an 8-iron. He tapped in for his final birdie.
Defending champion Fred Funk (70) made the cut. He is tied for 31st at 146. … Notables who missed the cut included Hale Irwin (151), Mark O’Meara (152), Ben Crenshaw (157) and Fuzzy Zoeller (159). … In-state products Tom Brandes, an amateur, shot 76 to finish at 158; and Gary Lindeblad, a Spokane professional, had an 85 for a 174 total. Both missed the cut. … Oregon’s Peter Jacobsen (left leg) withdrew after nine holes Friday, and Wayne Levi (elbow) left after eight holes.