BETHESDA -- On the first tee at Congressional Country Club late yesterday morning, Larry Ringer tried to relax. He took some deep breaths, flexed his shoulders a half-dozen times and cracked a couple of jokes with his considerable gallery.
After his name was announced, the crowd that included his parents whooped it up for the Country Club at Woodmore head pro and first-round co-leader of the 16th U.S. Senior Open. Ringer addressed his ball, but then quickly stepped away.
"I didn't expect that," he said.
It took awhile for Ringer to get hold of his jangled nerves. By the time he did -- after making his first bogey of the tournament on the second hole, after four-putting from 45 for triple bogey 7 on the third, after another bogey at the fourth hole -- he was on his way to barely making the cut while some bigger name players had done a little flexing of their own.
Two of them, Tom Weiskopf and Tommy Aaron, flexed their way to the top of the leader board. Weiskopf, who counts a British Open among 15 PGA Tour wins but is still looking for his first win on the Senior Tour, shot a second straight 69. Aaron, whose two PGA Tour victories included the 1973 Masters, followed an opening-round 70 with a 4-under 68.
At 6-under-par 138, they lead three players -- Bob Murphy, Dave Stockton and Australian Graham Marsh -- by a stroke. Each shot 2-under-par 70. Hale Irwin (68) is two shots behind and tied with Japan's Isao Aoki (70) at 4-under 140. Former Senior Open champion Lee Trevino also shot 68 to climb back into the hunt, tied at 3-under with first-round co-leader J. C. Snead (73) and Britain's Brian Barnes (72).
"You look at the leader board, and for the most part, these are the proven players of the game," said Weiskopf, 52, who started the day with two straight bogeys after finishing Thursday's round with one. "These are the guys who have won major championships and know how to win."
Stockton won 11 times on the PGA Tour, including the 1976 PGA Championship at Congressional. But he has been even more impressive as a senior, having won 13 tournaments since joining the Senior Tour full time in 1992 and being its leading money-winner the past three seasons.
Then there's Irwin, who has won 20 titles on the PGA Tour, including three U.S. Opens, and since becoming eligible for senior events earlier this month, has come close in each of his first two events.
There's Trevino, who won five majors on the regular tour and is tied with the most wins (24) ever on the Senior Tour. And lurking at 2-under 142 after his second straight 71 is that Nicklaus fellow, a former two-time Senior Open champion, as well as Ray Floyd.
"I don't believe anybody is going to run away and hide," said Irwin. "We still have two days to play and there is a lot that happens. There is a lot of anxiety. There is a lot of attention and excitement and that can affect your golf. Unless you've been there a few times and know how that feels and what to expect, it is a difficult thing to deal with."
Just ask Ringer. When he stepped on the second tee yesterday, he looked around at the gallery and at the ESPN camera closing in on him. He looked over at one of the others in his 'Who's he?' threesome, Washington attorney and Congressional member Paul Vardaman, and asked, "You're not nervous with all this gallery?"
Before Vardaman answered, Ringer said, "I am."
Even one of those following him seemed to be as anxious as Ringer. When he hooked his drive on the first hole, one woman was heard to say, "I hope he makes the cut." When he put his ball into the trap on the second hole and patted his chest to show how fast his heart was beating, another of Ringer's rooters yelled, "We're pumping as hard as you are, Larry."
By the time he staggered to the 18th hole, Ringer wasn't nervous anymore. Just depressed. After getting things under control briefly with a string of birdies to put him back to even-par through 12, he unraveled again. Bogeys at 14 and 17 had put him at 2-over. His drive on 18 was buried in the left rough.
"A sad display of golf today," he said to a few stragglers in what was left of his gallery.
It would get sadder. After punching out to the other side of the fairway, Ringer skulled a pitching wedge from 80 yards. Only a back bunker saved the ball from going into a pond behind the green, but he wound up with double-bogey 6. It gave him an 8-over-par 80 for the day, and left him 4-over for the tournament. The sliver of a silver lining was that he had made the cut.
"What a difference a day made," said Ringer, who hit only seven fairways, made just eight greens in regulation and took 33 putts, nine more than he had Thursday. "I couldn't get the club on the ball today. I could have used a wicket and not hit it."
Ringer admitted that all the attention from his opening round wore him down.
It included receiving some 50 telephone calls at his Mitchellville home, including a few after he had gone to bed around 11 p.m. He didn't know why, but Ringer said he had tears in his eyes on the first tee.
"I was overwhelmed," he said. "I wasn't scared. What can I tell you? Yesterday I was Mr. Media. Today I was Mr. Nothing. Some days you're the dog. Some days you're the fire hydrant."
NOTES: The cut was made at 6-over-par 150. Among those missing the cut were former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman (72-79151) and former three-time Senior Open champion Miller Barber (78-81159).
U.S. SENIOR OPEN
The leaders . . .
Tom Weiskopf .. ..69-69138
Tommy Aaron .. ...70-68138
. . . and selected followers
Bob Murphy .. .. .69-70139
Dave Stockton .. .69-70139
Graham Marsh .. ..69-70139
Hale Irwin .. .. .72-68140
Isao Aoki .. .. ..70-70140
Lee Trevino .. .. 73-68141
Larry Ringer .. ..68-80148