Forget Twain's famous description of golf as a “good walk spoiled.”
For three generations of Coopers this weekend, a good walk spoiled us.
Along with Kearney-sized crowds, we trekked the hills of Omaha Country Club — a place we'd driven around but never set foot on.
The Coopers, you see, are more city than country. And definitely more city than country club. You're more likely to find us puttering around Benson Park Golf Course than at some place, any place, that requires collars.
Here's what I expected to find at the U.S. Senior Open: the post-Tiger tour — where semi-popular, semi-puffier guys light up the greens like they did in their heyday. And then stoop, ever so gingerly, to fetch the ball out of the cup in the hopes that they don't throw out their back.
Here's what I didn't expect to find: a journey, and journeyman, worth every penny of our $125 grounds passes.
Our walk was almost spoiled from the beginning.
We live within a wayward shot of OCC. So my wife became our cabbie. She whipped a U-turn at 72nd and State Streets and we spilled out — like clowns from a Shriner's car.
An Omaha police motorcycle zipped up to us.
“You guys are killing me,” the officer huffed. “She can't drop you off here.”
“Where can she?” I asked.
“There is no drop-off site,” he said. “And there's no foot traffic allowed around here. You have to park at the North Omaha Airport and shuttle in.”
“But we live a few blocks away.”
“Then you need to walk here,” the officer said.
“But I thought you said no foot traffic was allowed?”
For a moment, I thought he was going to cite us — er, me — for jive-talking and jaywalking. And I imagined what our booking sheets would say.
Bill Cooper: 77. Shoots his age — after about 13 holes. Often clears his teeth by making a loud whisk-whisk noise — right in the middle of his playing partners' back swings. Note to self: Keep Dad away from the tee box. Hale Irwin might plant a driver in his jaw.
Todd Cooper: 41. Shoots his age — after nine, oh who's kidding whom, eight holes. But only because his dad made the natural lefty play right-handed as a child. Dad's rationale: Left-handed clubs used to cost more. On the positive side, he now has a lifelong excuse for bad golf.
Jack Cooper: 11. Shoots his age — after one or two holes. But only because his dad has taught him to swing for the fences in baseball and golf.
Alas, Capt. No-trot let us go without the nonsensical “walking in a no-walking zone” citation.
And the good walk began.
My brother and I had spent the week trading texts and jabs about all the excitement we were about to see.
“Brad Flippin' Faxon,” I wrote.
“Duffy Waldorf,” he responded.
“D to the A Weibring!”
On and on we went. Truth be told, this 1980s rewind is the stuff of my childhood, the stuff of Sunday afternoons in the basement with my dad listening to some greenside commentator whispering about how Tom Pernice Jr. could be the next Corey Pavin, who could be the next Bob Tway, who could be the next Tom Watson.
Of course, none of those guys became Watson, let alone Tiger Woods.
But they became cemented in my lexicon. So it was with great glee — and quite a bit of giggles — that I set out with my dad and son to go watch these blasts from the past.
The first two days looked like the apocalypse had settled in on the hills of northern Omaha:
» You had to pay $3 for a bottle of water. That rich duffer with the curtain-patterned pants on the tee? Yeah, he gets 'em free. By the coolerful.
» You couldn't bring your cellphone. This apparently led every Omahan to “pretend text” into the back of a U.S. Senior Open program.
Monty — that stuffy Brit who used to get in shouting matches with golf galleries — suddenly is the Michelin Man, all roly-poly, gushy and mushy. Half expected him to squeal when someone clapped for him.
Then there's Couples. I get his distaste for signing autographs.
In fact, I've never understood the thought process of adult autograph seekers. Hey you hit a golf ball/play a guitar/coach a football team really well. Now let me check out your penmanship, hot-shot.
I'll give Couples a mulligan on that. But is it really difficult to act like you want to be here, to learn the name of the place you're playing? It's not like it was the U.S. Senior Open at Bent Iron Thick Grass of Omaha. It's Omaha Country Club. Not that hard, Boom Boom.
It didn't take long to reach the conclusion: Maybe the old names weren't all they were cracked up to be. They had huge galleries — and, it seemed, no personalities. Save for Rocco Mediate, Watson, Steve Elkington and Fred Funk.
Time to roam. And what better day to do it than on Moving Day — Saturday. After reading colleague Dirk Chatelain's piece on the pesky putting surfaces at OCC, we were determined to trek out to the Holy Grail of greens: Hole Five.
Not saying it was a hike, but OCC ought to stand for the Omaha Cross Country Club. At one point, we walked past a woman who was passed out under a tree, paramedics by her side.
“It's a real shame, Jack,” I reassured my son. “But she didn't have $3 for water.”
As we wound up to the third hole, we got stuck behind a mini-throng for Kirk “Bucket Hat” Triplett and “Thin-Putter” Pavin. Unable to see them tee off — let alone track their ball — we turned around and watched two old guys hitting into the second green.
One guy had one of those arthritis bands around his forearm — and the grumpiness to match. The other looked like he was allergic to the sun — I dubbed him Pale Irwin.
Then an onlooker unfurled a tiny South African flag. I looked at the flag-toting fan. The two golfers looked at the flag-toting fan. We all seemed annoyed.
“I love these guys!” I said.
Jack needed to know if they were worth an 11-year-old's time. So he pulled out the program. The grumpy guy was one I recognized — David Frost, a 10-time PGA winner and one-time cigarette salesman.
Pale Irwin was actually a journeyman. Real name: Chris Williams. My smuggled cellphone gave me a little background on Williams. The now-South African was born in England. (Take that, flag boy.)
His nickname: The Ginger Cat. (These golfers really have to work on their handles.) He looks like a cross between comedian Robin Williams and that other South African golfer, Retief Goosen. And he's a golfing vagabond, having won on the European Seniors Tour, the Asian Tour and South Africa's Sunshine Tour. Save for recent Seniors events, he hadn't played in the U.S. since 1985.
Amazing, I told Jack. We're a mile from home. He's 10,000 miles from home. And that little white spinning ball has brought us together. In Omaha.
My son looked at me, soaking in my wisdom.
“Can I get one of those fresh-squeezed lemonades?”
Just then, Pale Irwin got up and down from the bunker. Birdie. Then he drained a 22-foot slippery birdie on 3. Then he stuck his approach to 2 feet on 4 and tapped in.
Then he hit a not-so-great tee shot on the fifth, 25 feet past the hole. And then, kaboom. Five holes, five birdies.
All the while, Williams barely cracked a smile.
Potty break time. Jack and I headed for the port-a-potty, only to get passed by a guy in cleats and plaid pants. Seems Frost may suffer from another old-guy ailment beyond arthritis.
He beelined for the outhouse, taking a golf club in with him. When he emerged, well, I gave Jack the honors.
Jack went in after him. Moments later, I nudged him.
“Congrats, dude,” I said.
“What?” Jack said.
“You and David Frost both had a hole in one in there.”
“Oh my gosh, Dad,” he said. He then shot me his best Fred Couples' annoyed look.
From there, Williams leveled off — and Frost lived up to his name. He stood over his tee shot on the seventh when some barely audible noise caused him to whip back and shoot a look at the gallery. Turns out, it was the USGA marshal's radio. Sensing Frost's frostiness, the marshal tried to recover by bumbling something about it being broken.
We marched on. Other than his magical birdie binge, Williams didn't make many waves. But his Saturday scorecard was the stuff of dreams — seven birdies, two bogeys and one double bogey.
He finished tied for ninth — five spots ahead of Couples and Bernhard Langer.
And this is what he said: “I played with some tremendous players this week — players I was never good enough to play with when I was a youngster. You just watch what these guys do and you see if you can pick some things up. It's been great fun.”
The Cooper boys know the feeling. Along with the throngs, we marveled at the pros' shotmaking and took solace in their shanks. We laughed at the dorkiest of golf jokes (“Rocco? Polo! Rocco? Polo!”). We chatted with our fellow fans, chuckling about how much these guys huffed and puffed and grumbled about OCC's cliffs while their caddies crumbled under the weight of their oversized luggage.
We went on an adventure hours after the tournament, traipsing out to try to find the ball that one-time leader Michael Allen sent sailing over State Street, thus sealing his fate. Sure enough, Jack found the egg and tossed it my way. Who knew? Michael Allen plays a Nitro.
We gazed at the horizon and, breeze in our face, saw nothing but the most gorgeous landscape any Omaha postcard could want.
Mostly, we walked and whispered, whispered and walked. “I haven't walked this much in years,” my dad said.
He stopped long enough to take a front-row seat at the first hole as one of his favorites teed off with Montgomerie and Langer. He laughed as the starter butchered Watson's current hometown so badly that Watson finally said, “Close enough.”
“He still looks the same,” my dad marveled.
A pause. “Course, he dyes his hair, that's for sure.”
After Kenny Perry — who is young enough to not need Grecian Formula — walked away with the tournament, we walked away, too.
Spoiled through and through.
“Well,” my dad said, “I can cross that off of my bucket list.”
Us, too, Dad. Us, too.