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Call It the T.C. Open--Chen Leads at 65 After Double-Eagle

Times Staff Writer

In the Golden Anniversary year of Gene Sarazen’s immortal double-eagle at the 1935 Masters, a young Taiwanese named T.C. Chen accomplished the rare feat Thursday at Oakland Hills for the first time in the 85-year history of the United States Open golf tournament.

T.C. (for Tze-Chung) was 256 yards from the cup on the 527-yard, par-five second hole when he drilled a 3-wood shot that hit in front of the green, rolled up and disappeared in the cup for a 2.

“When I heard the crowd, I knew that the ball would be pretty close, but I never thought it would be in the hole,” Chen said. “I didn’t know it until two guys told me as I walked onto the green.”

Buoyed by his incredible shot, Chen birdied the next hole and continued on to rip Oakland Hills--Ben Hogan’s feared and respected Monster--to shreds with a course record five-under-par 65 for a one-stroke lead after the first round.

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Chen, 26, a part-time tour player from Taipei, Taiwan, prepared for his first U.S. Open by winning the Korean Open and the Japan Open in April. But he had to shoot his way into this tournament in a qualifying round two weeks ago at Bethesda, Md.

Fred Couples, one of the longest hitters in golf history, is second after shooting a 66 by the simple method of hitting the ball so far that it sailed over all the hazards that frighten normal men.

By way of contrast, Couples used a 6-iron for his second shot on the hole where Chen made his double-eagle. Couples’ drive carried 325 yards, leaving him 200 yards for his 6-iron. He took two putts for a birdie.

“It was fun out there, it’s a fun course,” said the often moody Couples, who only last week struggled to an 84 at Westchester.

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Couples’ driving was awesome all day. On the first hole, 436 yards, he had 80 yards for his second shot, a sand wedge. That meant his drive carried more than 350 yards.

On No. 18, a 453-yard par-four that yielded more bogeys--and worse--than it did pars, Couples drove over the tops of two huge bunkers that caught many drives during the long round, which was twice delayed by rain and lightning. He banked his second shot, a 6-iron, off a hump in the green, and the ball curled around a few feet from the hole for his sixth birdie.

Seven players bettered par 70 over Oakland Hills’ 6,996-yard course. After Chen and Couples, all the others had 69s. The group included long-hitting Andy Bean, the only tour regular who hits as long as Couples; Tom Kite; Jay Haas, and two former Brigham Young players--Mike Reid and Rick Fehr, a mini-tour player not on the PGA tour.

Reid, one of the shortest hitters in the game, holds the distinction of having won more money ($807,841) than any other player in golf history who has not won a tournament.

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A group of eight, headed by pre-tournament favorites Lanny Wadkins and Craig Stadler, shot even-par 70 on a day that began cool and windy and wound up wet and windy.

“The day showed us all four seasons in a single day,” said defending champion Fuzzy Zoeller, who came in at one-over-par 71 after making a double-bogey on No. 16.

The weather and the pesky, undulating greens were the main topics of conversation until Chen electrified the crowd by picking up three strokes on par with a single shot.

“Maybe the scorekeepers got mixed up,” said one disbelieving golfer when Chen’s score went up on the leader board. “It’s got to be a mistake.”

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But it wasn’t, and U.S. Golf Assn. officials went to the record books and discovered that no one all the way back to Horace Rawlins, the winner in 1895, had ever made a double-eagle in this tournament.

“I hit a good drive, had 235 yards to the front of the green and another 21 yards to the hole,” Chen explained. “I hit a perfect 3-wood, straight to the pin. It made me feel great and so surprised because it had never happened to me before.”

It was not Chen’s low round in the United States, however. He had a 64 at La Quinta in the final round of the 1983 Bob Hope Classic.

“I think today was a better round,” the 140-pound Chen said. “It is in the United States Open and it is such a famous tournament that everyone will know about it.”

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Asked what the reaction would be in Taipei, Chen scratched his head and said: “I don’t know, I don’t know when they will hear of it. I did not see any Chinese press here today.”

Chen learned the game from an older brother, Tze-Ming, when he was a teen-ager.

“We lived near the Loinkou Country Club, and every day after school, when I was 17, I went to the course and my brother taught me how to play,” Chen said. “I hope that someday Tze-Ming will come to play in the United States.”

In the fall of 1983, Tze-Ming won the Dunlop Phoenix tournament in Japan by defeating Tom Watson in a playoff. This qualified him for the 1984 World Series of Golf at Firestone Country Club in Ohio, where T.C. caddied for him.

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On his entry blanks, T.C. lists his U.S. hometown as Monterey Park, Calif., but he says, “My home is Taipei, and my home in this country is my hotel. I am always traveling and I have no home when I am here.”

The double-eagle may have accounted for three shots, but Chen’s accurate irons helped him to five birdies. Only one of the birdie putts was more than 10 feet as he drilled the ball tight to the hole with 3- and 4-irons. His birdie putts were 4, 5, 12, 6 and 4 feet.

He made two bogeys when he drove in the rough and another when he took three putts.

“I am so surprised to be leading,” he said. “It was such an honor just to be here. I was so happy I qualified, and now I am the leader. Tomorrow, I think I will come out and try to get the ball in the fairway, and then get the ball on the green.”

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Chen’s 65 tied the competitive Oakland Hills record set by George Archer in the 1964 Carling World Open and equaled by David Graham in winning the 1979 PGA championship.

Couples, who said his play had been “pathetic” for the past three weeks, found Oakland Hills’ groundskeeping to his delight.

“In most tournaments, the fairways narrow down out between 275 and 300 yards,” Couples explained. “But here, the width remains the same all the way to the green so the long-hitters have more margin of error when they swing away.”

The leaders reflected that as Bean slugged his way to a 69 and Bill Glasson, last year’s No. 1 driver on the tour, had one of the 70s.

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On the other hand, there is Reid, the soft-spoken pro who first came into U. S. Open prominence with an opening-round 67 at Atlanta in 1976 as an amateur. Where Couples, Bean and Glasson were using a driver and 5- or 6-irons on the 457-yard fifth hole, Reid used his driver twice. He also used two drivers on the par-four eighth hole, an uphill 439-yarder.

“That’s my game (hitting woods and long irons),” Reid said. “I’m comfortable with the fact the long hitters use mid-irons when I use woods for my second shots, because that’s the way I have to play.

“I will admit I am surprised to be among the leaders. If someone had told me before I started that I would shoot a 69 and only two players be ahead of me, I would have thought it was a practical joke.”

Then there is Rex Caldwell, old Crazy Rex from Oxnard and Cal State Northridge. He had seven pars--more than anyone in the 156-player field--but also had five bogeys and a triple-bogey.

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Was he frustrated at making seven birdies and only shooting a 71?

“No, not really,” he said. “I needed all of them. If I didn’t make them I might have shot an 80. I thought for a while I might never finish No. 11 (where he made a triple-bogey 7), but I just kept hacking at it until I found the hole.”

Caldwell drove into a trap with an overhanging lip and failed to get out the first time. When he finally found the green, he took three putts.

Not all of the troubles came from the rough, the wind, the deep bunkers or the severe greens. Denis Watson, the South African who nearly won PGA Player of the Year honors last year when he won three late-season tournaments, was penalized two strokes for waiting too long for a putt to fall in the cup.

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Watson, who finished with a 72, waited too long for a putt on the eighth hole. The ball actually did fall in the hole, but once a player reaches his ball he is permitted only 10 seconds to watch--even if it is moving. Watson waited 35 seconds before his ball fell.

Several favorites, notably Watson, Jack Nicklaus, PGA champion Lee Trevino and former Masters champion Ben Crenshaw, are in danger of missing the cut after today’s second round. Watson shot a 75, Nicklaus and Trevino 76s and Crenshaw a 78.


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