Shatel: An all-time Omaha snapshot; chance to keep pros in picture? - Omaha.com
Published Sunday, July 14, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 9:14 pm
GOLF
Shatel: An all-time Omaha snapshot; chance to keep pros in picture?

Frame it.

The crowds, the biggest for anything involving sports played in Omaha, and maybe second to Nebraska football in the state.

The roars, which will echo around this old course for as long as member-guests and championships are played.

The players, the big names, the no-names, the greatness we witnessed for four days, just down the street from where you play.

The volunteers, the smiles through the sweat, the relentless hospitality that is Omaha’s calling card, from the corporate tent bars down to the dad and son sharing a lunch under a shade tree.

The hills, the huffing and puffing, the bloody treadmill of it all. Yes, when I think about this week years from now, I’ll always be out of breath.

Finally, that last hill of the week.

The walk up the 18th fairway, which looks like it was created to be a tournament finishing hole. Climb and climb and reach the top to receive your prize.

Kenny Perry and his magical putter took a lot of the drama out of this one, but the final walk still delivered. Perry and Michael Allen chugged up that mountain to applause that built with every step and finally reached a crescendo.

This wasn’t the Masters. Not the U.S. Open. Not the other two.

But this was Perry’s major, his second senior major to be exact, and he called it the crowning achievement of his career.

This was Omaha’s major, too. Nebraska’s major. One of our greatest moments, too.

Frame it. Find a nice place in our sports library, next to the Ak-Sar-Ben races, the brilliance of the College World Series and Michael Phelps touching the water wall inside the CenturyLink Center. And certainly all things red and blue.

I’m not here to compare the events or the participants or the accomplishments. You can debate that over your favorite summer toddy.

There’s no question that what we saw at Omaha Country Club the past four days was top shelf, big-time stuff that doesn’t come this way every year or every other year.

The question is, could it?

What’s the future of professional golf in this city, this state?

Will these seniors come this way again? And how soon?

These are interesting questions, and a shindig like this one, which attracted a total of 157,126 fans (32,994 on Saturday and 34,354 on Sunday) and raised $2 million in ticket revenue and the most corporate money ever for a U.S. Senior Open, certainly changes the conversation.

Which is: Should Omaha have a Champions Tour event?

This is a touchy issue, because we have a Web.com Tour event and have every year since 1996. When some of the players this week said Omaha wasn’t used to pro golf, that wasn’t exactly true.

It’s no secret, though, that the Cox Classic’s contract ends after this year. The future is uncertain.

You hear that Champions Run is finally tired of the event. You hear that no other course in the area has stepped up to take its place. You hear that sponsors may be up in the air, as well.

You also hear that the Web.com Tour might be considering Firethorn Golf Club in Lincoln for an event. The situation is fluid.

The timing of all this could be very interesting.

Mike Stevens, the president of the Champions Tour, told The World-Herald recently that his tour would not consider Omaha as long as there was another professional tour event here. But if not? Stevens said “we’d certainly look at it.”

This was how it worked in Des Moines, where the 1999 U.S. Senior Open was wildly successful and touched a nerve that turned into a Champions Tour event.

Could that happen here? Yes, of course. The corporate structure is here and the big boys got behind the Senior Open. The old guys’ tour is a fan friendly tour that plays well in corporate circles. If there’s no pro golf tourney here, somebody with a big checkbook might get an appetite.

Is there a course that would take it every year? Not OCC. No way. But local courses that aren’t interested in Web.com might line up for a piece of what just happened here this week.

Would you get every superstar to show up in Omaha every year? No. But the week here was enjoyable enough that it would attract a lot of players.

“The city was absolutely an A-plus,” Tom Lehman said.

“We love it here,” Rocco Mediate said.

“The Omaha people, I can’t believe they don’t get to see much golf up here,” Steve Elkington said. “They’re massive crowds, and they seem to know a ton about golf.”

Here’s what I know: This was not a one-time thing. The USGA was thrilled with the event. The crowds and money were off the charts. The players enjoyed the old-style course. And no greens were killed in the making of this tournament.

I could see OCC getting in the U.S. Senior Open rotation — but only if there’s no Champions Tour event. I could also see club members approving another event. This week was a home run for the club and its course.

That might be another 10 years. By then, we’ll have a whole new wave of old guys, led by Phil Mickelson, whose star value never gets old.

Champions Tour or Senior Open? Yes, please. I’ll take either. This was a week to remember.

The champion himself put the thing in proper perspective. Perry was talking in the media room about what this meant. And most people know his story.

He was a hero at the 2008 Ryder Cup in his native Kentucky, but he’s known more for blowing a two-shot lead with two holes left at the 2009 Masters. He lost in a playoff to Angel Cabrera. That kind of stain sticks with a man forever, unless he can win another major.

Perry never did, until he joined the senior tour. And how. He’s won two majors in the past three weeks.

Perry said, “So much heartbreak for so long, and now, for two weeks, this was so easy. Why now? I don’t know. But this was a sweet victory.’’

Perry will count this as a major, a different kind of major, but yet still sweet. That’s what the Senior Open was: different, yet there was a sweetness to it.

The kids at UCLA, the Olympic swimmers and all of those jockeys all of those years were in their primes, winning on the ride up.

What we saw this week was golfers out of their prime, but still with a lot of golf in the bag. And competitive pride.

This week, if you watched, you saw Tom Watson in the twilight of the fairway. He’s moving slower, hitting that iron off the tee at times. But he was still grinding, still practicing that swing off to the side, like it was 1977.

Watson is nearing the end of a brilliant career and he knows it. That’s what you saw as he walked up the 18th, made his par putt, took off his hat and waved to the crowd, taking his final bows.

Whatever the future holds for pro golf here, we’ll always have this week. Now there’s just one last thing to do.

Find a really good frame.

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel

tom.shatel@owh.com    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

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