There are a total of 156 golfers practicing for the Senior U.S. Open today. Kevin Coombs is thrilled to be one of them.
“As long as I walk away knowing I played great for me, it’s just going to add to how great this week is going to be,” he said.
The general manager of the Green Mountain golf course, in Camas, will be playing in the Senior U.S. Open Championship Thursday, at Omaha (Neb.) Country Club. Coombs asked his son, Connor, to caddy for him during the defining moment of his 42-year golf career.
“I am incredibly excited and nervous,” Kevin Coombs said. “It’s not like I practice or play a lot. I just happened to have a good round at the right time.”
Coombs shot a 1-under par 72 June 24, at the Willamette Valley Country Club. He then won a 2-hole playoff to qualify for the Open as a first alternate. All he needed was for a spot to open up.
Coombs returned to Willamette Valley CC July 1, to play in the Oregon Chapter PGA Championships. After shooting rounds of 75 and 78 strokes, Coombs called his wife, Minda. She told him to pack his bags. He’s going to Omaha.
“Thirty years ago, this is something I was trying to do but had never been able to achieve that quality,” he said. “To finally be able to experience something like this just once is amazing.”
Coombs played in the 1980 USGA Junior Amateur Championship, in Pike Lake, Mich., and the 1983 U.S. Amateur Championship, in Chicago. He made it to the final 16 of the Junior Amateur, but he missed the cut into the final round of the Amateur Championship by one stroke.
The 50-year-old Coombs was one of 44 golfers who entered the U.S. Senior Open qualifier. He hit birdies on the sixth, eighth and ninths holes to make the turn at 1-under. Sinking a 25-foot putt on 8 and a 60-foot putt on 9 gave him some confidence.
“I’m playing a great round for me,” Coombs thought. “But if I can make three birdies, somebody’s got to be shooting lights out.”
Coombs continued to battle. He made four straight pars, and then a birdie on the 14th hole. After a bogey on 15, Coombs scrambled for par on 16, 17 and 18 to finish with a 71.
The first person he talked to was Bruce Stewart, the leader with a 70. Tom Carey and Randy Mahar also shot 71s to force a playoff with Coombs.
The three golfers pared the first hole. The second hole is a 548-foot par 5. As they approached the green, Coombs said Carey and Mahar were both about 100 yards from the pin in the middle of the fairway. He is off to the right in the rough with trees in the way.
Coombs punched the ball under the trees. It skipped up on the green and stopped about 15 feet from the hole. Carey dropped his ball 20 feet from the hole and Mahar’s ball rolled off the green.
Mahar chipped up and made par. Carey missed his birdie putt and settled for par. Coombs rolled in his 15-footer for birdie.
“I was in the worst position, but I ended up winning the hole and the alternate spot,” Coombs said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Connor Coombs couldn’t caddy during the qualifying round because he had a baseball game to play. When he found out his father was going to play in the Senior U.S. Open, he wanted to be by his side.
“I knew my dad was good at golf, but I never thought he would qualify for such a big event,” Connor said. “I can’t believe I’m going to be able to step through the ropes and experience this with him. I’ve watched these guys on television, but I never thought we would ever get to be a part of it.”
Connor just graduated from Camas High School. He is going to Gonzaga University to pursue a degree in sports management or broadcast journalism.
“I’ll be intrigued by the whole event,” Connor said. “It will be cool to see how the championship is run and broadcasted.”
If Kevin Coombs makes it on television, he said he would have to do something spectacularly good or spectacularly bad.
“Either I hole it out from the fairway, or I’m lashing it out of the rough four or five times. Just hacking at it,” he said. “Right now, it’s spectacularly good for me.”
Kevin and Connor Coombs love the challenge golf provides. They may take 50-something swings in between, but that one shot they get right makes all the ups, downs, bumps and rolls worthwhile.
“At any given moment of any given time, you can hit a shot as great as the best golfer in the world,” Kevin said. “The question is, can you do it again? And how long does it take you to do it again?”