Golf: Hirsch hob-nobbing with Palmer and Player

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(First Edition)

PRACTICE rounds with his idols, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, made it a wonderful week for Joel Hirsch before he had hit a shot that counted in the British Seniors' Open here.

Yesterday he returned a rare par-71 in the wind and rain to total 144 at the half-way stage and set himself up to be low amateur in the championship for the second successive year.

Hirsch, 52, from Chicago, owns an insurance business, has interests in real estate, and plays about a dozen tournaments a year. He is a long-time Anglophile, and was runner-up to Phillipe Ploujoux of France in the 1981 Amateur Championship at St Andrews.

'I was disappointed when I missed being paired with Mr Palmer by a shot on both Saturday and Sunday here last year,' he said. 'He's my idol, and at the US Seniors Championship I asked him if I could play a practice round with him at Royal Lytham.

'He said he could manage it on Tuesday. Feeling lucky, I asked Gary Player if I could play a round with him, too, and he gave me a date on Wednesday. It's been wonderful. Thrilling is the only word to describe it.'

Starting with six pars yesterday, Hirsch dropped two shots at the seventh, driving into a bunker, later finding a green-side bunker and finally holing an eight-foot putt for a seven.

He hit back immediately, sinking putts of 30 and 33 feet for birdies at the eighth and ninth. He described his two-iron to the 485-yard 11th as 'the best shot I've hit in two years'. It led to a birdie four.

He took the wrong line and drove into a bunker at the 13th, making a bogie five, but at a time when many were finding the closing holes desperately difficult, he was able to make pars at all the remainder.

At that stage Larry Laoretti, the 1992 United States Senior Champion, was the only other player to achieve a par round. Palmer began unhappily by dropping three shots in his first six holes.

BRITISH SENIORS' OPEN (Royal Lytham and St Anne's) Early second-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 149 H Inggs (SA) 77. 150 T Dement (US) 76, J Carr (US) 77. 151 K Magnusson (Swe) 75. 153 F Rennie 76. 154 D Craik 81, J Frew 75, D Scanlan 80, D Simon (US) 72.