HARRISON, N.Y. -- Familiarity often breeds comfort instead of contempt for golfers, and such is the case at this week's Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship.
After a few years in Maryland, the Champions Tour major championship relocated to Westchester CC for 2011. The site of a PGA Tour event from 1967 until 2007 - the Buick Classic in its last iteration -- Westchester is old school and also old hat for tour pros 50 and over. Of the 78 players in the field, only six had never competed in a PGA Tour event at this week's venue.
On the other hand, 11 golfers had played in at least 20 tour events at Westchester, topped by Jay Haas' 27 appearances. For Haas, who opened with a four-under 67, two strokes behind leader Jeff Sluman, having played 108 previous competitive rounds is (mostly) positive.
"I would certainly rather have played a course that many times than come in blind, but I've hit some shots in places on every hole out here where I don't want to be," Haas said. "I sometimes recall those - the wrong shots I hit at the wrong time. But there is nothing like familiarity. It's nice to come back to a course we have played. When we hit a shot we know whether it's good or bad, even if it's a blind shot over the top of a hill."
There are a couple of blind shots at Westchester, along with the traditional mix of narrow fairways, formidable but not outlandish rough and difficult greens - which were switched from poa annua to bentgrass last year. The course is a par 71 measuring 6,980 yards this week. A half-dozen holes are very tough, others easier, the result a nice variety.
"There are no surprises. It's pretty much what it's always been," said Mark Calcavecchia, who eagled the par-5 18th hole to shoot a first-round 69. "It's unique in the sense that there are some blind second shots. There are some holes where you've got a wedge or 9-iron in there, and it's like Pinehurst, you're afraid to go at the pin. Like No. 14. It's a 9-iron hole. But the pin was back-left. If you miss it 10 feet left or 10 feet long, you're making at least a bogey, maybe more. With a 9 iron, that's the last thing you want to do, so you play it like I did, 40 feet short and right. Even these little, short 'wedgy' holes, you have to be careful and think about what you're doing. You start short-siding or airmailing some of these greens, you're done."
Haas' opening round was nearly textbook in how he took advantage of the vulnerable holes - with the exception of a bogey-5 on the 314-yard 10th - and avoided trouble on the taxing holes. Haas' five birdies came after approaches with nothing more than a 9-iron, and he parred the five par 4s that are 440 yards or longer. Peter Senior, T-2 after a 66, was the rare player to subdue the 473-yard, par-4 12th hole, sinking a 35-footer after hitting a 3-wood from 240 yards. "That felt like an eagle to me," Senior said.
For Fred Couples, who played 20 PGA Tour events at Westchester and opened with a three-under 68, the venue is reminiscent of courses in his native Seattle. Going around it is like a trip around Riviera CC outside Los Angeles, one of his favorite tour stops. "This is very easy," Couples said of the recall factor. "I can remember shots I've hit. There are some holes that you can attack and make birdies, but at the same time, you can be shaking your head when you've got a wedge from 100 yards and you hit it over the green and you don't get up and down. This is a very tricky course."
-- Bill Fields