ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Handicapping golf tournaments that don't include Tiger Woods or Lorena Ochoa tend to be a fruitless endeavor given the vagaries of the game, but there is an evident favorite at the Senior PGA Championship this week. A favorite son, to be precise.
Jeff Sluman is a native of Rochester, N.Y., and is a member at Oak Hill CC there, site of the Senior PGA. Though he lives in Chicago, he still has family in Rochester, including brother Brad, who runs a restaurant, the Pittsford Pub, a short ride from Oak Hill. Sluman also has a long-time relationship with Craig Harmon, Oak Hill's head pro for 37 years.
"I've probably got about 500 rounds under my belt here," Sluman said, "but [except for] the '89 U.S. Open and the 2003 PGA and now this, you don't see the golf course in this type of condition with the speed of the greens and rough and that. But essentially I know where to go and what to stay away from. I certainly feel like I can play the golf course well."
So it was that Sluman finished round one of the Senior PGA near the top of the leader board, shooting an even-par 70 on a difficult course made harder by the cold, windy conditions.
"I think anybody teeing off at 8 o'clock like we did would have taken 70 and got a cup of coffee and stayed in the clubhouse," he said. "But that's the best I could do."
He's happy as well that he did not play himself out of contention, as he has done here in the past. You see, there is a downside to a home game, too.
"Golf's a very challenging game at best," he said, "but when you really want something and try too hard ... well, judging by my past experiences in Rochester, I haven't played very well. I finally relaxed out there and started to play some good golf.
"I'm going to go out and try and compete the next three days and if I have a chance to win on Sunday, regardless of what happens, I'll take it as a great week," said Sluman. "Just playing well in front of my family and friends means a lot to me."
-- John Strege