From Junior to Senior — Open, that is

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Champions Tour veteran Ken Still (left) with former TV sports anchor Bruce King

 

An off day during the regular season is a rare treat for anyone involved in Major League Baseball. So Thursday was a five-star day for me. Not only was it an off day for the Mariners – which translates into a day off for me – I was able to combine my two passions,  baseball and golf, at Sahalee Country Club, one of the greatest golf courses I have been fortunate enough to play.

The U.S. Senior Open will be played next year at the lush layout in Sammamish, located about two Ken Griffey Jr. drives and a nine-iron from Safeco Field, and I was among those invited to participate on media day. Among the dignitaries at the lunch-golf event was Ken Still an infielder at a Tacoma high school, and an avid Mariners’ fan since Day One of the franchise.

Still loves baseball and counts among his many friends -and former friends – Sandy Koufax and the late Don Drysdale of the Dodgers.

“When I met them in 1964, Sandy was a 17 handicap and Don was about an 18,” Still told me. “Sandy is a five now, but Don never really worked at it and never improved much. But boy could ‘Big D’ pitch. How would you like him pitching for the Mariners in his prime? Now, that would be fun watch.

“I remember him telling Ray Floyd and me before a game he pitched, ‘The inside part of the plate is mine tonight. Just watch.’ Sure enough, the inside part of the plate was his.”

The 74-year-old Still also said one of his dreams is to watch the Mariners play in the World Series. That is not likely to happen before the U.S. Senior Open, which will be held next July 26-August 1 at Sahalee, but Still keeps hoping that some year the Fall Classic will be played at Safeco Field.

In the meantime, he’ll keep being a good baseball fan and goodwill ambassador for golf, especially in the Northwest. He is one of only two Washington native professional golfers that have played on the United States Ryder Cup team. Fred Couples is the other.

It was pointed out more than once on Thursday that Couples will be THE MAN at the U.S. Senior Open, one of the majors on the Champions Tour. “Boom  Boom” not only will be playing in his first U.S. Senior Open, but conducting a junior clinic during the week of the four-day tournament.

And if the Mariners are playing at home that week, he just might throw the ceremonial first pitch. Or deliver it via a wedge shot from center field.

During a taped interview shown, Couples said he follows the Mariners closely.

“I’m a huge baseball fan,” he said. “My dad and brother were very good baseball players. I chose golf at a younger age, but I still enjoy what’s going on. I think it’s great that Griffey is back. Hopefully, they’ll be in town (when the Senior Open is being played).”

Still, a feisty golfer in his younger days, said he played third base in high school.

“I loved the action there,” he said of the hot corner. “The faster the ball came down the line, the better I liked it.”

But Still was going to be the backup third baseman in his junior year and the coach recommended that Ken concentrate on golf – a sport he had been introduced to by an uncle.

“I was a 17-handicap at that time,” he said, “and had it down to a ‘zero’ the next year.”

Heck, my handicap (which will remain top secret) would go down too if hit 500 golf balls a day and played 36 holes six or seven days a week. Come to think of it, if I played 36 holes two days a week, I would hit something close to 500 shots, especially at a place like Sahalee, which apparently means “Many Tall Trees” in Indian.

Not that I hit many of them, but a family of woodpeckers, minding their own business, thought I must be related because I spent so much time in the trees than in the fairways. Why golf courses are built with fairways down the middle has always puzzled me. Trees belong in the middle with wide fairways on each side.

I asked Ken how good he would be if he was in his prime right now and used the equipment being used by the Tiger Woods of the world.

“Funny you should ask,” he said. “I spend one week a year with Jack (Nicklaus) at his house in Florida and the last time I was there we were sitting around and I asked him the very same question. He said, ‘Ken, let’s turn it around. How good would these guys be if they had to use the clubs and balls we had to use?'”

Believe it or not, I finally met someone who actually shot his age. Junior Griffey says he has, but I don’t believe him. He also says he’s the best putter not on tour. Yeah, right.

But Still told me he shot a 74 at the Tacoma Country Club about a month ago. How good is that? He said it was the first time he did that, and that he previously has missed by one shot.

Then a scary thought came over me: how old would I have to get to shoot my age?

Never mind.  But if that ever happens, it would not be accomplished at Sahalee. I mean, who wants to live to be 114?

— Jim Street

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