The shortest path from point A to point B is a straight line. Lon Hinkle fully realized this when, in the 1979 U.S. Open, he launched his eighth-hole tee shot through a gap in the trees onto the neighboring fairway, cutting off about 60 yards to the green and giving himself a clear second shot. From the 17th fairway he put his next shot on the green.
Hinkle’s fairway-jumping tactics on the dogleg eighth hole was the talk of the tournament after the first round. Angry U.S. Golf Association officials announced they would plant a tree overnight to try to stop Hinkle, and playing partner Chi Chi Rodriguez, from doing it again. Hard-pressed to find a local tree service that offered both a large enough tree and the equipment necessary to plant it, the officials had to buy a tree from a local nursery and then hire a separate tree service to come from an hour away and plant it.
Alas for USGA officials, the 20-foot “Hinkle Tree” was too short. Hinkle and Rodriguez just shot over it.
Nearly 30 years later Hinkle, a Bigfork resident, has swung his way into the 2007 U.S Senior Open, though without any landscaping controversy.
The tournament began Thursday on a Whistling Straits course near Kohler, Wis., that Hinkle calls “the toughest I’ve ever seen.” He said he had that same thought when he played in his first PGA tournament in 1972 at Harbour Town Golf Links in South Carolina. He placed third there.
“I’d take third here,” he said.
The course, designed by the legendary Pete Dye, has 700 bunkers, Hinkle said. Most PGA courses have between 30 and 70.
Hinkle hasn’t played in many tournaments in recent years and said he’s excited to be in the thick of tough competition again. He qualified for the Senior Open in June and has been in Wisconsin the past week preparing. A couple of states away in Toledo, Ohio, the “Hinkle Tree” still stands.
You can follow Hinkle’s progress live at www.ussenioropen.com. Go to “leaderboards,” click on “full leaderboards” and look for his name.
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