Watson, Langer expect a tough test at Senior Open

Associated Press /Bernhard Langer should be one of the top players at the U.S. Senior Open at the Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame this weekend.

SOUTH BEND —Tom Watson and Bernhard Langer won't let father time slow them down when it comes to playing golf.

Watson was reminded on Wednesday at the U.S. Senior Open media session that he's quickly approaching a milestone with his age.

"Do you have special plans on September 4th?", asked the moderator.

"No," responded Watson. "What's September 4th?"

"Isn't that your birthday?", the moderator said

"Is it my birthday?", Watson responded.

"Your 70th birthday," the moderator answered.

"Well, thanks a lot," Watson joked. "Now you blab it to the whole world I'm 70 years old on September 4th.

"Age is but a number. That's all it is.

"All I know is that I'm losing my hair, losing my hearing and losing my distance off the tee. I'm at a loss in a lot of different ways. But I'm still healthy and I'm grateful for that."

Instead of talking about his birthday, the 8-time major champion and 3-time U.S. Senior Open runner-up was more focused on conquering Notre Dame's Warren Golf Course.

Listening to Watson, it's easier to talk about your age then navigating the course.

"The golf course is generous off the tee, but the greens are as tough a greens to putt on as I've every experienced," Watson said. "There's so many humps and bumps on the greens that it's very difficult to get just a consistent breaking putt. You may have a putt that starts to break to the right and then it straightens out, maybe goes a little bit left and then back to the right again. What's that mean? You better hit it close.

"There's also a premium on approach shots. The golf course for me plays really long, especially a couple holes on the front side there. So I'd better be on my game with my iron play and my hybrids and 3-irons and 3-woods."

The 61-year old Langer, who has never finished out of the top 25 in his previous 11 Senior Open appearances and won the event in 2010, also sees some challenges to confront on the course.

"It has a really nice setup," said Langer. "There are fairly generous fairways most of the time, but very demanding greens. They're very undulating and very small and narrow. Every green seems to kick in from the side.

"So, if you short-side yourself, you have very little, I think, to work with.

"Also, if you do hit the ball in the rough it's fairly thick. You're not going to hit a lot of 4-irons or 5-irons out of that stuff.

"Plus, we're near the lake, so there could be quite a bit of wind.

"It should be a great test."

Only a back injury has slowed Langer down from passing senior golf tournament tests this year.

"I got off to a great start," Langer said. "In the first three tournaments I played in, I won, I lost in a playoff and finished third in the third one. Then I hurt my back and withdrew from a few tournaments. Then I kind of had to find my way back.

"But there's not that much difference in my game over the my last 11 years or so compared to when I was younger. What I have lost in distance I probably gained by the material that were playing with now so I'm still hitting the ball as far as I did in my 20's, 30's and 40's.

"I've been able to play fairly consistent top-level golf. If you look at my whole history on the senior tour I've done well in a lot of tournaments.

"You've got to hit the ball where you're looking and you've got to have a good short game. You also have to enjoy the pressure and embrace it and not shy from it.

"I just love the game. Hard work, dedication and my competitive nature are reasons for my longevity."

Currently, Watson feels there's plenty of room for improvement in his golf game.

"I'm uncertain about my expectations," Watson said when asked about how well he can do this week. I didn't play very well yesterday and I didn't play very well this morning in the pro-am. I didn't putt very well. I worked on a couple things in my golf swing. That seemed to kind of tie in with what has worked with me in the past.

"With my putting, I had a brilliant thought last week that worked for one hole, and then it didn't work, and I'm back to the brilliant thought that I hope works for more than one hole."

There will a local flavor to Watson's appearance at the event. His caddy is well known locally.

"Well, John Foster, who is the head pro (at Warren), was very helpful," Watson said. "My caddy, for business reasons, couldn't caddy for me this week. I called John and I asked him if I could arrange a caddy and he came right back and said Greg (Helmkamp), who's an assistant pro (at Warren), would be happy to do it. I'm glad to have him on the bag.

"I'm certain I'll be relying on him for certain bits of information about things."

Watson talked about the influence his father had on him and his golf career and the importance of playing in the U.S. Open, U.S. Senior Open and U.S. Amateur.

"Well, it started with my father, who said, 'if you win the U.S. Open championship you've beaten the best field on the toughest golf course you're going to play on'," Watson said. "And so I always when I was a kid growing up, it was a U.S. Open that was the tournament I wanted to win.

"It still is."

 

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