“A man always remembers his first love with special tenderness,” famed essayist H.L. Mencken once wrote, “but after that, he begins to bunch them.” When it comes to golf, the same might be said about playing the U.S. Open. Just ask Paul Goydos, whose fondest Open memory begins with his very first practice round at his very first tourney, at Oakmont in 1994. “I played with Bob Friend, whose father used to be a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates,” Goydos said, “and another guy named Arnold Palmer who, I guess, is from Pennsylvania.”
Goydos brought down the house when he dropped Palmer’s name in a similar line at the U.S. Senior Open media day last week, once again proving he has a black belt in deadpan humor. “It was such a wonderful thing to play a practice round with Arnold,” Goydos said. “I know Arnold was probably thinking, ‘Who is this guy and how’d he get in my group?’”
Palmer got to know Goydos a lot better two years later when the Californian scored his first PGA Tour victory at Palmer’s Bay Hill tourney. That led to a Masters berth the following month and another practice round with Palmer, this time at Augusta. After that round, Palmer invited Goydos and Fred Funk to the Champions Locker Room for a post-round beverage, where they happened to bump into Sam Snead. “Sam, I want you meet Paul Goydos, who won my tournament this year,” Palmer said. Snead looked at the diminutive Goydos, who was sporting a sort of Fu Manchu goatee at the time, and blurted out incredulously, “You did?”
Goydos may also seem like an unlikely choice to host this year’s U.S. Senior Open media day. After all, he won only twice on the PGA Tour and never had so much as a top 10 in his 19 major-championship appearances, topping out with a T-12 at the 1999 U.S. Open. He missed the cut in his two Masters appearances and finished 71st in his only British Open. But Goydos, who turns 51 on June 20, has played in nine U.S. Opens, and with two Champions tour wins under his belt, he could be counted among the senior circuit’s “young guns” — assuming there is such a thing. More important, he’s a California guy, and with this year’s U.S. Senior Open taking place at Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento on June 25-28, the long-time Long Beach-area denizen is a perfect fit.
While Goydos freely admits that he can’t possibly remember how many PGA Tour events he competed in (507, per PGATour.com), he does clearly recall every U.S. Open and U.S. Public Links championship he teed it up in. Those big events are the ones a top golfer lives for — and never forgets. “We like to watch the Masters, but the most important tournament is the U.S. Open,” Goydos says. “The USGA conducts national championships, which are the most important tournaments in golf, period. Whether it’s the U.S. Junior, the U.S. Amateur, the Senior or the Women’s Opens, they’re national championships.”
And now that it’s J&J — June and July — we are officially in the prime time of championship season: there are five national championships (of a sort) on the line in the next six weeks, including, the U.S. Open, U.S. Senior Open, U.S. Women’s Open, U.S. Girls’ Junior and U.S. Junior Amateur. “Everybody in those fields is good enough to win,” Goydos says, “but the USGA isn’t just testing your golf skills, they’re testing you. The player who understands himself, stays patient and handles the situation is the one who is going to win.”
That age-old Open mantra about “staying patient” essentially comes down to course management, aka not shooting at every pin. But when four pars in a row at a typical U.S. Open counts as a “charge,” that patience quickly gets tested, especially when a player has a couple of bad holes, then tries to get those lost strokes back. That often leads to more trouble. “You hear players complaining about the setup on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday,” Goydos says. “That just means the USGA has done its job and they’ve already started getting in your head. That’s what they do best. They challenge you, the person. That’s why I love playing in USGA events.”
Welcome to Open Season, golf’s stretch to remember.
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