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Archive for Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Keegan: Towner reveling in Open

July 4, 2007

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How much would you pay to compete on one of the world's most beautiful, challenging golf courses, have the talent to enjoy it instead of be demoralized by it, wait out a rain delay by chatting with Tom Watson for 20 minutes, ride the elevator with Ben Crenshaw and find a couple of new top-of-the-line golf clubs in your locker without an invoice attached? The answer is it doesn't matter because it's not for sale.

Money couldn't buy anyone a spot in the U.S. Senior Open field. To hear one competitor tell it, the experience is priceless.

"The weirdest thing has been I've signed 500 autographs in two days," Alvamar Country Club head pro Randy Towner said Tuesday by phone from Kohler, Wis., after completing a practice round at Whistling Straits.

Towner, who qualified for the tournament for the first time in three tries last month, plays another practice round today, then plays for real in Thursday's opening round. Towner tees off hole No. 1 at 9:15 and is grouped with Jerry Wisz, a club pro from Alhambra, Calif., and amateur Tom Grady from Marshall, Va. The same threesome tees off No. 10 on Friday at 2:30.

Having played so many top golf courses, Towner is not easily impressed. Still, he sounded blown away by the beauty of Whistling Straits, a Pete Dye-designed course built in 1998 along two miles of the Lake Michigan coastline.

"It's like Prairie Dunes on steroids," Towner said. "That's the only way I can think to describe it. When we drive to the course, we go all back roads because it's a lot easier. It's soy beans, corn, deer, turkeys and silos."

During Tuesday's practice round, the players hit several different shots and putts to get a feel for the course. They didn't keep score. Towner played with Wisz and Champions tour player Bruce Summerhays.

During a 20-minute rain delay, Towner said, Watson, the biggest name in Kansas golf history, noticed his Alvamar golf bag and came over for a chat.

"He asked how Ross (Randall) was doing and said he had heard about the change," Towner said of Randall's decision to take on a new role in the Kansas University athletic department and to turn the head-coaching duties over to Kit Grove. "We talked a little bit about Gary Woodland, and he asked what other players Kansas had."

Towner said Watson also told him the European golfers are much more fundamentally sound than the American players.

"He said it's going to be difficult for us to win another Ryder Cup," Towner said.

It probably wasn't much different from conversations Towner likely has had with pal Roy Williams about the state of American and European basketball.

Anyway, Towner said he has been "playing well" while testing Whistling Straits under windy conditions.

Since the lockers are arranged alphabetically, Towner was expecting to meet Lee Trevino. Upon arriving in Wisconsin, though, Towner learned Trevino is not competing this year. Seve Ballesteros, Gary Player, Raymond Floyd and Scott Hoch have withdrawn from the field.

Towner has no plans to follow them out the door.

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