By CHRIS DOBROWOLSKI firstname.lastname@example.org
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — COLUMBUS, Ohio — Aim high and try to shoot low.
That’s the philosophy Lee Houttemann will take with him when he competes at the U.S. Senior Open in Omaha, Neb. in less than three weeks.
Houtteman punched his ticket to the Senior major event when he finished second at a qualifier at Worthington Hills Country Club on Monday.
Houtteman’s 68, which was 3-under par, was one stroke behind John Gagai’s first-place score at the qualifier and put both players into the Champions Tour’s third major event of the year on July 11-14 at Omaha Country Club.
“We always dream of getting in a major,” said Houtteman, the head pro at Manitou Passage Golf Club in Cedar. “I played my first one last year at the U.S. Senior PGA (he missed the cut) and I was the first alternate to get in to the (U.S. Senior Open) at Indianwood (in Benton Harbor) last year. I had to wait on the putting green and never got the call.”
This time Houtteman made sure he was included. He was in the lead when he came into the clubhouse, and though half the field still had to complete their rounds, he knew he was in good position to qualify.
“I felt pretty good because it was tough,” he said. “The greens were rock hard and they were really sloppy. You had to be underneath the hole, otherwise you had four- of five-footers all day. So I was able to do that. I was able to keep my irons under so I was putting up hill. The putting didn’t seem that tough when you were putting up hill. I was listening to guys talk and they were putting pin high, or past the pin, and they said they couldn’t stop it.”
By reaching the U.S. Senior Open, Houtteman continued a stretch where he’s playing some of the best golf of his life. He finished tied for 13th at last week’s Michigan Open — he was the low senior in the state and second out of all Michigan club pros — and has wins in the state’s Senior PGA event and Match Play in 2012 as well as the 2011 Tournament of Champions under his belt.
“For the last two years I really have been playing well,” said Houtteman, 51. “I’ve been playing better than I ever have. I don’t know what happened when I turned 50. A lot of it is on the green. I have a lot more confidence putting. I picked up a few little things and I’ve been putting pretty well. That always helps.”
To tune up for the U.S. Senior Open, Houtteman is entered into the PGA Professional National Championship this weekend in Oregon. Then he’ll focus on Omaha, where he’s holding nothing back.
“I don’t want to try and kid myself, but I really am trying to aim high — try to figure out how to win it,” he said. “I know that some part of me says that isn’t going to happen, but you really have to try and figure out how to make as many birdies as you can. Shoot 67 or 68 each round. I could do it and let them fall where they may. I don’t really like to say, ‘oh, I’m going to make the cut.’ When you set your sights on that goal then you’re always going to be around the cut line. I’m 51 so a lot of the guys I’m playing against — the Tom Kites and Tom Watsons — when they were 25-30 they were really good. But now, age has a way of leveling the playing field. I’ve seen all the guys play. I can compete with any of them.”