At the Greater Baltimore Classic last week, winner J.C. Snead and runner-up John Mahaffey both said that being in contention was nerve-racking. It had been a long time since they'd been there, both said, and winning is something you have to get used to all over again.
However, Fuzzy Zoeller, who went 16 years without winning an event before capturing the Senior PGA tournament this year, disagrees.
"To be honest, you never forget how to win," Zoeller said. "It's just like it was yesterday. It was 16 years since I had won, and then I turn up and win the PGA. When you're out there in the battle of the game, it's amazing how fresh things come back in your mind. It's like you're a youngster again; you know exactly what you have to do."
Don't be surprised if Zoeller, a former Masters and U.S. Open champion, shows that same mentality this week as he tries to win the U.S. Senior Open at Caves Valley Golf Club. If he's not the favorite, then he's definitely on a short list of players to watch. Just ask Tom Watson, who mentioned Zoeller when asked about potential contenders.
"Fuzzy is one of the longest hitters on the Senior Tour," Watson said. "He ought to do very well here."
"Now why would he put that pressure on me?" said Zoeller, laughing. "Of course, I just did a thing with ESPN and I mentioned his name."
Zoeller said a U.S. Senior Open title would be just as memorable for him as the U.S. Open title he won in 1984.
"Major championships are how we're judged during our career, and it would give me the same feeling," Zoeller said. "There is no better feeling in the world than beating the best at what they do."
Larry Ringer has special memories of his first Senior Open, played at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda in 1995. Ringer, then the head pro at the Country Club at Woodmore in Mitchellville, shot an opening-round 68 to take the lead.
"Anytime you get your name out there and your face on television, you're elated," said Ringer, who now works as a teaching pro at the Country Road Golf Center in Frederick. "I was tickled to death."
Though reality set in when Ringer ballooned to an 80 in the second round, he regained some respect - not to mention some air time - when he got back in the hunt with a 69 on Saturday. He shot 74 on Sunday to finished tied for 21st
After undergoing hip replacement surgery twice in an eight-month span in 1996, Ringer started resumed competitive play in 1997. He was the first alternate in 1998, but qualified again in 1999 and finished respectably in Des Moines (tie for 23rd).
"Being here is one thing, competing is another," said Ringer, who played the PGA Tour between 1973 and 1976 before becoming the head coach at the Naval Academy for 15 years. "For me to have a chance, I have to have the four greatest rounds of my life."
It's difficult to tell who is more elated being at Caves Valley this week, George Burns III or his caddie, Jeff Heubeck of Baltimore.
Burns, who played at the University of Maryland, has played sporadically on the Senior Tour the past three years and spends most of his time with his family in Florida.
After qualifying for the Open, Burns called Caves Valley looking for a caddie.
"He's played here a lot and I haven't been playing a lot of golf," said Burns, 52, who is still affected by the hand injury that curtailed a PGA Tour career that included four victories. "I'm sort of out of the flow with the guys who caddie on the tour regularly."
Heubeck, who has caddied at Caves Valley the past five years while finishing a degree in biology at UMBC, is looking forward to the opportunity to show off his local knowledge
"That he has some local ties makes it even better," Heubeck, 33, said.
Burns played well in the State Farm Senior Classic two years ago at Hobbit's Glen in Columbia, and gained a lot of support wearing the hat of his alma mater.
Asked if he planned to wear a Maryland hat celebrating its national championship this year in men's basketball, Burns asked, "Do you know where I can get one?"
Arnold Palmer has fond memories of Baltimore. In 1956, Palmer won the third of his 60 PGA Tour titles at the old Eastern Open, played that year at Mount Pleasant.
"My first tee shot I hit out of bounds and I was ready to walk off the course," Palmer recalled recently. "I was playing with Doug Ford. He told me that I could spot the field two shots and still win. He was right. At one point in the tournament I had a 12-shot lead."
Palmer wound up winning by two shots over Dow Finsterwald.