Women's U.S. Open has a tough act to follow at Pinehurst
By Gary D'Amato
By Gary D'Amato
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
PINEHURST, N.C. (MCT) — It could be the best thing to happen to women's golf in years. Then again, it could be a disaster.
That's the risk the United States Golf Association took when it scheduled the U.S. Open and the U.S. Women's Open in back-to-back weeks at Pinehurst No. 2.
On Sunday, only three golfers finished under par for 72 holes in the men's Open, led by champion Martin Kaymer at 9-under.
Now, it's the women's turn.
"Actually, I hope they all tear it up," said Vicki Goetze-Ackerman, who won the 1989 U.S. Women's Amateur at Pinehurst and now is player president of the LPGA. "We always want to showcase the best of the best."
Not everyone is sold on the idea of the women following the men on a course that has been stressed by the USGA's agronomic requirements and absorbed nearly 1,000 rounds during the men's practice and tournament days.
"It will be a disaster for us," Suzann Pettersen told Golfweek magazine earlier this year. "We should've been out first. We do minimal damage to the course compared to what the guys do."
But Mike Davis, executive director of the USGA, said, "The golf course held up beautifully ergonomically, in terms of its health. The greens could not be healthier."
He added that Pinehurst No. 2 would be set up for the women almost exactly the way it was set up for the men, with a couple notable exceptions.
The greens will be softened a bit, because the women don't hit their irons as high or spin the ball as much as the men. And the course will play some 900 yards shorter for the women. The figure being used is 6,600 yards, but even that sounds too long; 6,400 would be more reasonable.
"We're going to be preparing the golf course the same way," Davis said. "Whatever the green speeds are (for the men), that's what they're going to be next week. Whatever the mow heights are, same for next week. Preparation of bunkers. Same basic hole locations."
Ideally, Davis wants to set up the course so that the women hit the same clubs into the greens that the men did.
"So if a male hits a 6-iron in, it reacts the same way as a 6-iron hit by the female," he said. "Again, I will acknowledge that this sounds swell on paper. Trying to execute it perfectly, I can almost guarantee you we won't do that."
Some are concerned the women will have to hit out of an inordinate number of repaired divots left behind by the men.
"Well, you can get in divots at the U.S. Open and you can get in divots playing a resort course," Goetze-Ackerman said. "I'm not anticipating it will be a problem unless there's a very important shot coming down the stretch that winds up in a divot. Then people will make a big deal of it."
Personally, I see the women struggling, and not because of divots. I admire their games and there's no questioning their talent. It's just that they never see firm, crowned, Donald Ross-designed greens on the LPGA Tour.
The men had a hard enough time hitting greens and getting up and down last week. I don't think three days of practice is enough time for the women to dial in some of the delicate short-game shots they'll need.
I keep thinking back to all those high scores at Blackwolf Run in 1998 and see the same thing happening at Pinehurst.
If Stacy Lewis, Lydia Ko and Paula Creamer break par for 72 holes on Pinehurst No. 2, more power to them. People who tune in will gain a new appreciation for their skills.
"From a standpoint of exposure, it's huge," Goetze-Ackerman said. "There have been so many positives already in terms of publicity. We should have increased viewership, which could get us more fans and interest in women's golf and hopefully will lead to more young girls playing the game."
But what if the best female players in the world shoot a bunch of 78s? There would be a lot of snickers in living rooms around the country.
"I was thinking about it today," Steve Stricker said after walking off the course Sunday. "There's a lot of ball marks on the greens. The greens are in really good shape but it's hard out there. It all depends how they set it up for them. I think that will dictate how they deal with it."
Goetze-Ackerman is confident the women will deal with it just fine. She spent time at Pinehurst last week and is familiar with the USGA's strategy for setting up the course.
"I think it's a great plan," she said. "They thought of everything you could possibly imagine."
Natalie Gulbis arrived in Pinehurst on Friday and proclaimed, "This is golf history. This is a first for the women's game, and it's great for us."
Let's see what she has to say Sunday afternoon.