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Senior PGA: No. 7 plays hard to get in first round

7:01 PM PDT, May 24, 2012

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BENTON HARBOR -- In the background, Lake Michigan was a vibrant
bluish green.

The beach was pristine, but vacant. Good day to fly a kite: 20 mph
breeze, gusts to 30 -- from the south, which is rare in this part of
the world.

And No. 7 was a bear: 436 yards downwind, par-4, hitting to an
elevated green with jungle brush and natural sand -- not the refined
stuff in the traps -- just a few feet beyond the putting surface.

The Golf Club of Harbor Shores got a good laugh, bringing some of the
top 50-and-older professional golfers -- and some gents just hoping for
a decent payday -- to the point of frustration.

Winning the Senior PGA Championship means taming No. 7.

Or, at least surviving it.

The big names negotiated it Thursday. First-round leader Roger Chapman
was one of six to escape with a birdie, en route to his 3-under 68.
Steve Pate, tied for fourth at 70, was another.

It was easily the toughest hole on the course -- even with the wind.

"I hit a driver, 9-iron to about 30 feet and holed that," Chapman
said, recounting his success. "(The putt) was going a little quick,
but it hit the middle of the hole."

Not bad, considering the cup was tucked about 12 feet from the left
edge of the green, on the upper tier of a baffling surface.

"(No. 7), thank God, played downwind," said John Cook, who parred the
hole and was in second, 2-under. "Nice drive and a 9-iron, and (I) had
a nice two-putt to get out of there with four."

"You have a backboard against the wind," said P.H. Horgan III, who
finagled a par. "Downwind, I had a wedge in (to the green) today, but
it was still scary. I did well to keep it on the green. That hole is
one of the toughest holes you're ever going to play."

See ya tomorrow, trouble.

Eighteen players scored higher than double-bogey 6 on the hole. For
the day, the 156-player field averaged 4.606. A 10 by J.C. Snead was
the highest score.

And these guys have made a living doing this for a lot of years.

Duffers, don't feel bad.

Some of those obscure veterans dreaming to catch lightning in a bottle
were struck down by this measure of mettle. In the space of an hour,
more than a few pros were brought to their knees.

Take Troy Schleicher of The Woodlands, Texas, for example.

Now this was a classic.

Five-over heading into No. 7 (he started on the back nine),
Schleicher's struggle continued.

His approach to the green went long -- and kept going. Through the
sand, through the muck and down a hill. It came to rest six inches shy
of the parking lot -- barely inbounds.

A ruling on a snow fence gave Schleicher a drop without penalty. He
took a whack and the ball traveled about five feet, still mired in the
growth. That was five feet more than his next shot, as the ball rolled
down the steep incline behind him. His third try got to the top of the
hill, and his fourth finally reached the green.

Schleicher was bumfuzzled. He turned to The Tribune columnist, who was
with him through the whole ordeal, and said, "I lost track. You know
how many?" "Four swings in the junk," was the response.

Schleicher's 9 on No. 7 was the crown jewel in the 82, which should
limit his visit to Benton Harbor to a couple days.

Then there's Denis Watson of Zimbabwe. He was a one-and-done at the
Senior PGA Championship, and No. 7 had a lot to do with it.

Watson, not to be confused with, related to, or even vaguely
resembling defending champ Tom Watson, hit his approach long.

The ball was tucked under a clump of the wild grass. Watson took a
swing, caught the ball clean, not a speck of sand, and sent it sailing
at least 100 yards back down the fairway.

His approach the second time around came up short. "Fool me once ..." right?

Watson finally found the green, missed a six-foot putt and ended with a 9.

His 84 didn't really count since Watson chose not to turn in a scorecard.

Tom Purtzer took a couple of hacks to get out of the brush and settled
for a 6. That was the only double bogey in his round of 77.

Willie Wood muscled out of the vegetation and rolled the ball just
left of the cup, then 25 feet down the hill. It was one of two bogeys
that led to a 72.

Everybody but Denis Watson will live to fight another fight. Different
day. Different conditions. Different pressure.

Same challenge. No. 7 won't be going anywhere anytime soon.

Bet the ranch it's going to be a bear again.