OMAHA, Neb. — A new putter has helped give Billy Andrade a new outlook on his golf game.
Andrade changed out his flat stick a week ago, managed the undulating Omaha Country Club greens with no problem Thursday and shot a bogey-free 5-under 65 to share the first-round lead with Stephen Ames at the U.S. Senior Open.
The 57-year-old Andrade’s best finish this season is a tie for fifth, and he has only one other top-10 in 22 events. Two weeks ago he had his worst tournament since 2014, finishing 18 over and tying for 63rd in the Senior Players Championship at Firestone.
“I didn’t feel too marvelous when I left there,” he said.
Andrade said Brad Faxon, the fellow Rhode Islander who plays part-time on the PGA Tour Champions and is a putting instructor, told him he needed to add weight to his putter. Andrade said he switched to another Scottie Cameron putter, one that’s heavier and with a different bend to the neck.
Last week, he tied for 13th at the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open in Endicott, New York.
“I putted decent last week at Dick’s, and I kind of was on to something here,” Andrade said. “My feel is very good. Today it was exceptional.”
Andrade had five birdies and no bogeys on an OCC course that dried out after the sun broke through and the wind came up in the afternoon. Ames had seven birdies and two bogeys in the morning session.
Wes Short Jr. shot 66. Alex Cejka, looking for his third victory in a senior major this year, and Robert Karlsson followed at 67.
Andrade, who started on the 10th hole, pulled into a tie with Ames with a birdie on the par-5 sixth. He just missed a 20-foot downhill birdie putt on the par-4 ninth.
“I’m not happy that I haven’t won in a long time,” said Andrade, whose last win was in 2015. “So this build-up has been happening, and I’m seeing a lot of good things, progress. Finished top 10 at the Tradition, Alabama. I was really close at Mitsubishi in Atlanta. Maybe this is the build-up that I needed to come here and contend.”
Ames hit 11 of 13 fairways and 16 greens in regulation on the 6,891-yard course set in the rolling hills on the north side of the city. He birdied five of seven holes in the middle of the round.
Ames made a 15-footer for birdie on the par-4 No. 14 and hit a 6-iron to 4 inches on the downhill, 223-yard par-3 No. 15. But the 57-year-old naturalized Canadian citizen from Trinidad three-putted from 8 feet for bogey on the par-4 17th and came in at 32.
“I’m like, ’Whoa, could have been a lot lower on the back nine, which is unfortunate,” said Ames, whose highest finish in a senior major was a tie for third in the 2018 Senior British Open.
Ames got some local knowledge from his caddie, Troy Martin of Omaha. The two connected in April when Peter Jacobsen told Ames he was taking off the rest of the season and that his caddie, Martin, needed a job.
“I decided, OK, I’ll give him a trial run, and our trial run started off with a 10th in Birmingham and a second in Atlanta,” Ames said. “I’m like, ‘OK, what are you doing for the rest of the year?’ That’s how it ended up, and obviously we won in Des Moines, just up the road from here. It’s been a good year so far for me, for us.”
Short has five top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour Champions this year and is looking for his first win in a senior major. He made four birdies and mostly avoided the thick rough.
Jay Haas, at 67 the oldest player in the field, shot 69.
The field includes 16 players who won a total of 26 majors before joining the senior tour. Among those playing in the Senior Open for the first time are Mike Weir (70), Jim Furyk (72), Ernie Els (73), Rich Beem (73) and Jose Maria Olazabal (77).
Bernard Langer, who has won a record 11 senior majors, shot 71.
Steve Stricker, the 2019 champion, is not playing in Omaha. He’s on the regular PGA Tour this week at the John Deere Classic. There was no U.S. Senior Open last year because of the pandemic.
Kenny Perry, who won the Senior Open here in 2013, opened with a 71. The 60-year-old Perry, who also won the Senior Open in 2017, has only two top-10 finishes in 22 events this season.
“I’m not 52 anymore, and it’s a lot harder to walk out here,” Perry said. “The hills kind of had me a little bit. I was kind of gasping a little, but I made it.”