SAMMAMISH, Wash. -- Long hitters of the golf ball take heart.
Sure, Sahalee Country Club's narrow tree-lined fairways favor the shorter but more accurate drivers, and there is a reason Loren Roberts said, "It's not a bomber's paradise."
But don't count out the guys who drive it a long way in this week's U.S. Senior Open, which begins Thursday at Sahalee.
Vijay Singh is living proof of that.
Singh, one of the PGA Tour's longest drivers for years, won the PGA Championship at Sahalee in 1998, albeit getting some nice bounces off the trees to hold off Steve Stricker.
Craig Parry, a relatively short hitter, won the 2002 NEC Invitational world championship in 2002 at Sahalee, the only other big professional event held at the course. Fred Funk, known for being short and straight off the tee, tied for second, but longball hitter Robert Allenby tied for second as well and big-hitting Tiger Woods was just another shot back.
On a course where history shows both long and short hitters have a chance, one thing is certain: You have to hit it straight.
"To win this tournament, you've got to hit it in the fairway," said Tom Kite, one of only a few name players who played practice rounds at Sahalee on Monday.
"That, I can guarantee," he said. And then for emphasis, he said it again.
Kite said it was important for him to get out on the course, because "you've got to know where to hit it." Like many of this week's field, Kite hasn't been to the course since 1998.
Portland, Ore., native Peter Jacobsen doesn't need much of a refresher, having played at Sahalee more than most of the competitors, including college tournaments while playing for the University of Oregon. He said he once finished second at Sahalee.
"You have to hit the ball straight there," Jacobsen said earlier this year at the Toshiba Classic in Newport Beach, Calif. "It's all about keeping the ball in play, so the straight drivers will do well. The guys who bomb it, they better be able to hit it straight, too. You can catch a tree no matter where you are. You try to cut too many corners, and you're going to catch some trees."
Funk is the defending U.S. Senior Open champion, posting a record score of 20-under par at Crooked Stick in Carmel, Ind. While not having the power game of players like Fred Couples, his style is suited for Sahalee, and his second-place finish in the NEC Invitational confirms that.
"Sahalee speaks for itself," said Funk via video teleconference on media day in May. "Everything is just so big. You can feel claustrophobic on a few of the holes. It's visually intimidating, and you just have to avoid (the trees). You have to be in total control of your game."
Seattle native Couples hasn't had a lot of success at Sahalee, but he did tie for 13th at the 1998 PGA Championship. Funk certainly isn't discounting Couples, mentioning him when someone asked if Funk's scoring record at an Open is safe.
"With 'Freddy Boom Boom' coming, who knows how low he is going to shoot," Funk said.
Bernhard Langer, coming off a win in the Senior British Open, talked in March about how much he was looking forward to playing at Sahalee. For him, it's really not about how far he hits the ball or how difficult the course is.
"If I'm hitting it where I'm aiming, and I can make a few putts, I feel like I can play well anywhere," he said. "But I do like the course."
U.S. Senior Open
When: Practice rounds, Tuesday-Wednesday; tournament Thursday-Sunday
Where: Sahalee Country Club, Sammamish, Wash.
Tickets: $20 for daily practice rounds; $45 for a tournament day; children 17 and under are free with a ticketed adult, with up to nine children per paying adult. For more information, go to 2010ussenioropen.com or call 877-281-6736.
Parking: Free at Marymoor Park, with continual shuttles running to the course.
TV: Thursday and Friday, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., ESPN2; Saturday and Sunday, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., NBC