Baloh enjoying Open, Palmer pairing
TOLEDO, Ohio — Bill Baloh had modest goals coming into his first U.S. Senior Open.
He did not allow himself to become bogged down with concerns of making the cut or setting a hard and fast score he wanted to shoot on the difficult Inverness Golf Club.
“I was determined above all else that I was going to have fun,” he said Thursday after shooting an opening-round 82. “I got here Sunday afternoon and have spent a lot of time at the course, soaking it all in. I want to experience it all. And it’s been terrific.”
The first “un-terrific” part Baloh experienced happened Thursday when it took him 35 putts to get around Inverness. He three-putted the first two holes, setting the stage for what was to come.
“My whole day revolved about my putting,” Baloh said. “I’m striking the ball better than I ever did and if I’d have had the putting of old, well, I think it would have been a different story.”
After shooting 42 on his first nine holes, Baloh was feeling pretty good about himself on his back nine, until making a triple-bogey 7 on the signature hole at Inverness, No. 7, a 456-yard uphill par four.
“I’m disappointed, surely,” he said. “You always feel like you should be able to break 80. There’s just something that seems so much better about a score that starts with a 7 instead of an 8. But this is a course that definitely punishes all the average shots.”
Baloh got into this field as a result of his making the semifinals in the 2002 Senior Amateur at Timuquana CC in Jacksonville. And as soon as he knew he was in the field, he started making plans for a hoped-for practice round pairing with Arnold Palmer.
He wrote a letter to Palmer’s office and got a response saying that pairing would definitely happen. And, despite some scheduling snafus that almost broke up that pairing, the Westmoreland County natives played together Tuesday.
“It was an awesome experience,” Baloh, 59, admitted. “I just couldn’t believe the number of fans that were out there on every hole. It was almost like walking through a corridor from every green to the next tee. That was a special day.”
For quite a while on Thursday, it appeared as though Palmer was going to provide golf with a special day of his own. He started on the back nine and, after making birdie on the 15th hole, he was one over par and a buzz was starting about what was happening. He bogeyed the 17th to make the turn at 38, two over par.
“And then I promptly three-putted the first hole for a double bogey,” Palmer said. “But then I birdied 2 and that was some consolation and I was back to 3 over. I made a couple good putts for pars and then I kind of started messing up.”
Messing up to the tune of three bogeys and a double in his last five holes.
“I made some mental mistakes and that bothered me,” he admitted. “When I made the turn at 2 over I really wasn’t thinking about maybe making the cut. What I did allow to get into my mind was starting to think about shooting 70 or 71, bettering my age. That was one of my goals for this week.”
The 73-year-old finished with a 79, eight over par. If he can somehow manage to pull off that bettering his age thing in today’s second round, he might have a chance to be in his first hunt for a cut since 1998 in the Senior Open … despite a very un-Palmer like decision that backfired.
“On the 8th hole (a 554-yard par 5), I hit one of my big tee shots that I haven’t done in a long time and was in a position of giving it a shot at going for it. I was going to go over the trees and try to get to the front edge of the green,” he said. “I changed my mind and tried to lay up and hit a bad layup shot, which is not my style, as you know. I never laid up successfully in my life.”