Jun. 25—BETHLEHEM — Coming off birdie on the 17th hole, there was no charge to the final tee to keep the momentum going.
If anything, Country Club of Scranton head professional Mike Molino wanted that moment, on the 18th tee at Saucon Valley Country Club, to last forever.
"I stood on 18 tee and I didn't want to hit it," Molino said. "I just wanted to stay there. I didn't want it to end."
Playing in his first major championship, the die had been cast when Molino slogged through Thursday's rain-drenched first round of the 42nd U.S. Senior Open, with a 13-over 84.
Making the cut was never a consideration after that, but playing well, that's something Molino, caddie Dustin McCormack and coach John Kulhamer made their focus.
Not posting a really low number, like Padraig Harrington did, his 65 putting him at 6-under to lead Steve Stricker by one, and PGA Tour Champions rookie Rod Zabritz by two.
Just a solid round, and birdies on three of the four par 3s led Molino to just that, a 4-over 75 on Friday, a number that brought a huge smile to the face of the 53-year-old from Dallas.
"I shot 75, made three birdies today, two dumb doubles, so it gives me hope," Molino said. "I've got that fire that never really goes away. It was fun."
Emotional, too, with a loyal following of family and friends on hand.
"I teed up the golf ball way before on the first tee just to make sure I could get it on the tee," Molino said of hitting a shot with so much emotion coursing through him. "I did that quite early.
"I had a good warm-up session with John and Dustin and I just committed to what they told me," Molino said.
A solid par on No. 1 was followed by what looked like a fine drive on No. 2.
"I thought I hit a good tee shot," Molino said. "Dustin thought I cleared the bunker. We were disheartened when we got up there and saw it in the bunker. Maybe I tried to do too much with it and put it in a really bad spot, and I took my lumps there."
It was the first of his two double bogeys, but Molino answered with a gem on the 157-yard fourth, his 8-iron finishing 4 feet below the pin.
"Got it in the perfect spot just under the hole and rolled it in," Molino said. "What a thrill that was to get on the board. I birdied three of the par 3s today and that's a little unlike me and my game. I made two bogeys on the par 5s. That's not like me as well."
He missed the fairway on his tee shot as well as his second on the par-5 seventh, and posted another bogey, then missed the green on No. 9 and couldn't get a 5-footer to save par to fall.
A delicate pitch on No. 10 settled within a foot to save par on No. 10, and his moment in the sun came at 183-yard 11th.
"We've played that hole four or five times now and it's kind of in between a 6-iron and the 5-hybrid I carry," Molino said. "Yesterday, I hit it in that back right bunker and I was dead. Dustin wasn't letting me hit that today. He had his hand on it and wasn't letting go.
"He said, just hit the 6-iron and we'll deal with it from where we deal with it, and I hit it just right."
A little better break and Molino's ball releases down the slope instead of finishing 15 feet away, but that slick, sharp-breaking putt dropped dead center for a birdie, eliciting a roar from the gallery.
"That was breaking left and it was fast," Molino said. "Truth be told, I probably pushed it three or four inches from where our mark was, but that was a joy to see it go in."
The reaction caught him off guard.
"It's like, 'whoa, that's for me?'" Molino said. "It's fun."
Not so much fun was the double bogey on No. 14 that put him at 5 over for the round.
"Earlier in the day Dustin said, 'let's get one back and shoot 75 in a major,' and we did," Molino said. "Pretty cool stuff."
His 7-iron on No. 17 finished 18 feet below the cup and he rolled it in the right side for birdie, and a feathered chip down a sharp slope on No. 18 set up a tap-in for a final par and 75, missing the cut by 12 shots.
"I played good today," Molino said. "I made a couple bad mistakes which, when you think about it, really stings a little bit. But obviously, you look over there and see my family, my extended family and all the friends that were here today, what else could you want?
"I've got a smile on my face from ear to ear and I missed the cut by a jillion, but I enjoyed every minute of this. Every minute."
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