BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Any time the United States Golf Association runs up its flag for a major championship, the players' comments are almost predictable.
That's the way it was on the eve of the 13th annual U.S. Senior Open at Saucon Valley Country Club yesterday, although the veterans of this event and the U.S. Open admit comparing conditions for the two is similar to matching apples and oranges.
The beautiful, tree-lined layout, designed by Herbert Strong and opened in 1922, is perfectly straightforward, with no hidden problems. Even though the local rough is not as severe, and there are openings in front of the greens, it still will be a major test for the over-50 set.
"Got to drive the ball straight; stay out of the rough; put it on the proper side of the hole; don't get above the cup."
These are the usual sayings ahead of time, although tempered with an escape clause about softer greens if there is rain.
With most of the best eligible players here (a notable exception is Mike Hill, No. 2 on the money list, who withdrew without explanation), the course does not favor a particular one. The name most often heard, however, is Lee Trevino.
Asked to pick a winner, former champion Gary Player replied: "Anybody who beats Trevino will win. He is the best driver of the ball by a long way, and the hardest worker. All he wants to do is play golf."
And he has done a great job of it this season, winning five times (plus a team title with Mike Hill) and earning more than $730,000, tops on the list.
"1990 was a great year [he was named Player of the Year], and I averaged 68-69 a round. Last year, I neglected what had got me there -- the short game -- and it showed. The stroke average was about 70," said Trevino.
"This year, it's 68.8, and the last-round average is 68.5 or so. My short game is better than last year, and I'm finishing better than I did then, too. Now, I'm going out and work on that chipping." Asked if he knew what he was going to do, he replied, "If I knew, I'd be in Las Vegas. I do know you can't be aggressive with the driver. Guys will be hitting it 15 yards shorter than usual to keep the ball in the fairway."
Is he playing well right now? Last week, in a Senior Tour event at Kings Island, Ohio, he shot 65-66 the last two days and finished third.
"Everyone will make bogeys; you have to stay away from the 6s [double bogeys]."
And with longtime caddy Herman Mitchell, he has to have someone at whom to yell. "Yeah, we get in some screaming matches, but I have to have someone -- I can't holler at my wife," said Trevino.
"One time, after a round, I told Herman he did a poor job of !B caddying. And he told me right back, 'You did a poor job of playing.' And he was right."
NOTES: Gibby Gilbert, winner of the last two Senior Tour events, who worked a club job between leaving the regular tour and coming out on the Senior circuit, is one who truly appreciates what he has. "Some of these guys ought to go work at a club for a year before coming out here." . . . Defender Jack Nicklaus is not sure of the state of his game, "because I haven't played particularly well [in competition] lately. I haven't played enough tournament golf to be as sharp as I'd like." . . . Larry Wise, former head pro at Congressional CC [site of this event in 1995], now head pro at neighboring Center Valley CC, a course that opened last month, qualified by surviving a sudden-death playoff that went five extra holes. Ironically, the loser, PGA of America president Dick Smith, subsequently got into the field as an alternate. . . . The director of golf here is Gene Mattare, formerly at Chevy Chase.
Facts and figures
What: 13th U.S. Senior Open
Where: Saucon Valley CC, Bethlehem, Pa.
When: Today through Sunday
Who: 156 players for two rounds. Low 60 and ties will play the final two rounds.
Field: Defending champion Jack Nicklaus. Seven entries have accounted for 10 of the 12 championships. 22 of top 25 1992 Senior Tour money winners.
Purse: $700,000. First, $130,000. Second, $65,000. Third, $38,830.
Course: 6,700 yards; par 36-35--71.
TV: ESPN today and tomorrow, noon-2 p.m. and 4 p.m-6 p.m.; ABC Saturday and Sunday, (3:30 p.m.-6 p.m.).