BETHESDA -- Complaining about the condition of the greens is almost a constant harangue at the U.S. Open. But it's usually because they're too hard, not too soft.
And it usually doesn't happen at a Senior Open.
Yet the criticism already has begun at the 16th Senior Open at Congressional Country Club, and the first official tee shot won't be struck until tomorrow.
The pot shots began yesterday when two prominent players, Dave Stockton and Hale Irwin, questioned whether the mushy greens were the result of this week's sloppy weather or shoddy construction.
Stockton, who won the PGA Championship at Congressional in 1976, complimented the rest of architect Rees Jones' reconstruction of the 6,945-yard course.
But . . .
"The only glitch has been the greens," said Stockton, the Senior Tour's leading money-winner the past two years.
Said Irwin: "The changes they have made have all been good changes. The easier sightlines are going to satisfy most people. The course is in great shape. But the condition of the greens is going to be a hot topic of conversation."
Stockton said that during a practice round yesterday, he and Tom Weiskopf were pulling clumps of wet grass off their balls after they landed on the greens.
It was an indication to Stockton that the greens were not as firm as those played on at most Senior Tour stops, and far from the kind usually seen at most U.S. Golf Association events.
But Jones, who finished rebuilding "about 80 percent of the course" five years ago, said that the greens shouldn't be a problem if the rain stops by tomorrow.
"They were firm when I was here last week and they'll be firmer if they dry out," said Jones. "They do drain well. It's just like Shinnecock's [for this year's regular U.S. Open]. They were wet early in the week, but they dried out for the tournament."
Irwin questioned whether the softness of the greens had anything to do with the weather.
"I don't think we can blame the rain," he said. "It was here before the rain. The root structure isn't very deep. . . . We're all going to look silly on some of those putts. We're going to miss some very short putts."
Joked Irwin: "Maybe we should go spikeless."
David Fay, executive director of the USGA, said, "I don't see that [going spikeless] as a solution. A lot of these guys have never done that. It would be like asking hockey players in the Stanley Cup finals to start wearing double runners if the ice suddenly went soft."
Defending champion Simon Hobday of South Africa didn't seem to understand what the fuss is about.
"Greens never bother me as long as they have a hole in them," he said.
NOTE: Holly Hills pro Mike McGinnis will be in the first group tomorrow morning, beginning at 7. Two other local qualifiers, Country Club at Woodmore head pro Larry Ringer and amateur Jack Vardaman, will be teeing off two threesomes later.
16TH SENIOR OPEN
Where: Congressional Country Club, Bethesda
When: Tomorrow through Sunday; in case of tie, an 18-hole playoff will be held Monday.
Who: 156 of the world's best 50-and-over golfers.
Tickets: Individual tickets are $18 for practice rounds and $30 for regular rounds. Season and grounds, $110; clubhouse and grounds, $175; daily ticket book, $225. All packages include parking; season and daily also include official program. For more information, call (301) 469-2305.