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TEE TALK: Klabunde scores with gig at Senior Open

The year was 1992, the site Pebble Beach, the occasion the national championship of golf.

Kevin Klabunde, a Medford banker, attended. He didn’t know then it would be the only U.S. Open he’d witness firsthand for more than a quarter-century.

Tom Kite, one of the era’s best players, won, shooting an even-par 72 in weather so horrendous, he used a 6-iron on the 105-yard seventh hole that abuts the ocean. So torturous were the 30- to 40-mph winds, when Colin Montgomerie finished early with a 70 and the clubhouse lead, Jack Nicklaus, assuming no one could possibly do better, congratulated him for winning his first major.

Klabunde probably didn’t know that then, either.

What he did know was, he wanted to buy a souvenir flag.

Klabunde attended his second U.S. Open last week, this the senior version at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He did so in a different capacity: He served as co-chairman of the scoring committee, an opportunity afforded him by a longtime friend who works tournaments in that area.

“I always dreamed of participating in a national USGA event,” said Klabunde, 64, who in mid-June attempted to qualify for the Senior Open. “I always hoped it would be as a player as opposed to being a worker bee.”

Nevertheless, in packing for his weeklong adventure, he included an old memento, the ‘92 flag.

“It’s been tacked up on the wall in my office for 26 years,” said Klabunde, “and I thought, maybe he’d (Kite) be there. So I brought it and got him to sign it early in the week. It was pretty cool.”

One of many “cool” experiences Klabunde enjoyed, from learning the intricacies of tournament scoring, to standing with honorary chairman John Elway on the first tee, to scoring three groups over the four days — including that of Kirk Triplett, who had the second-lowest round of the tournament; and affable Billy Andrade, with whom Klabunde once played a round; and the cantankerous Montgomerie, whose erratic putting in the final round made him a veritable powder keg.

Klabunde finished his week by hobnobbing with winner David Toms at a Sunday evening reception.

“It was just a remarkable experience,” said Klabunde, a former longtime North Medford boys golf coach who last spring guided the St. Mary’s girls to the state championship.

Klabunde worked at Jackson County Federal Credit Union in the early 1990s with Greg Papineau, who is now an accountant in Colorado Springs. Papineau had worked two other USGA championships, and when Klabunde learned last fall he’d be back at it in the Senior Open, he offered his services.

“He said, ‘Sure, I’ll make you my co-chair,” said Klabunde.

Klabunde arrived in Colorado on the Sunday before the tournament. Most players got there Monday, some Tuesday, for practice rounds before play began Thursday.

His committee was in charge of nearly 600 of the 2,200 volunteers. They oversaw the 10 leaderboards on the course, the standard-bearers with each group, walking scorers and laser operations.

They used the practice days as training, then went to work.

Klabunde was a walking scorer Thursday, Friday and Sunday. On Saturday, he pitched in wherever he was needed.

The walking scorer logs information into a handheld device: who’s hitting, what club is being used, the location of the player and what cut he’s in, whether fairway or rough, etc.

The data is transmitted to a half-dozen places, including the scoring center, the television crew and those operating lasers that pinpoint distances to the inch.

“The USGA is pretty particular about who they have doing the walking scoring,” said Klabunde.

Especially for the last six groups in the final round, when mistakes surely would be magnified.

Klabunde visited with Denver Broncos quarterback great Elway on the first tee for 10 or 15 minutes, he said.

“He had tried to qualify, too, so we had something in common,” said Klabunde, “both unsuccessful qualifiers.”

At sectional qualifying June 11 at Waverley Country Club in Portland, Klabunde made 41 putts and ballooned to an 82.

Nine days earlier, he made eight birdies in a bogey-free round, shooting his age for the first time with a 64 at Rogue Valley Country Club.

“I had five rounds in May and June in the 60s and was feeling relatively confident,” he said. “Then I got up there and just putted terribly.”

When he got to The Broadmoor to work, he tried to picture himself in that setting as a player.

“Those guys have swagger,” he said. “They have a swagger that I don’t feel like I have. Maybe if I had been there a couple times or something, I’d feel differently. But you could tell, most of them know they belong.”

On the first day of play, Klabunde scored for pros John Elliott and Bruce Nakamura and amateur Brian Ferris.

On Day 2, Friday, he accompanied Triplett during his round of 66.

“He was just on fire,” said Klabunde. “And it wasn’t that he was making long putts. His irons were laser-like.”

Triplett’s playing partners were Steve Flesch, who “wasn’t a happy camper” even before he double-bogeyed the final hole to miss the cut by one, said Klabunde, and Scott Parel, who put on a power display.

“He’s a guy who’s smaller than us, but man, can he move the ball,” said Klabunde. “He was the longest player that I scored for. He was huge.”

Come Sunday, Klabunde was to score for the seventh-from-the-last group. When he saw Andrade was in the sixth group out, he joined that one instead. The two played together at a Georgia course in 2012, while Klabunde was on a trip that included a round at Augusta National.

On Saturday and Sunday, the field was trimmed to twosomes. Andrade’s playing partner was Montgomerie, who in that ‘92 U.S. Open wound up third.

The Scottish star wasn’t as close on this weekend.

Montgomerie has a reputation of being difficult. He showed that when he yelled at the walking scorer and standard-bearer several times on Friday.

“It’s almost like he looks for things to bother him,” said Klabunde. “I was a little apprehensive going into the round on Sunday because it was the final round of the U.S. Senior Open, and he made it real easy to stay away from him.”

Montgomerie three-putted three of the first five holes, missed a 3-footer for par on No. 6 and four-putted the ninth, said Klabunde. He took a whopping 42 putts and shot 80.

“It made me feel better about my 41 putts in the qualifier,” said Klabunde.

He did feel for Andrade, he said, figuring players feed off one another, good and bad. Andrade shot a final-round 75 and tied for 16th place.

At tournament’s end, Klabunde was on the 18th green for the trophy presentation, then attended the cocktail party honoring Toms.

He now has a hat bearing Toms’ and Andrade’s autographs, to go with the flag and Kite’s.

“It was a real thrill to be involved,” said Klabunde. “I’d like to do it again.”

He might get the chance. The Senior Open returns to The Broadmoor in seven years.

-- Have a local golf story idea? Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@mailtribune.com

Kevin Klabunde got David Toms, the U.S. Senior Open winner, and Billy Andrade to autograph the hat he wore while working the tournament last week.