No complaints from LPGA players
PINEHURST, N.C. -- It's not quite a matter of, "We told you so." It's more a case of, "Good! We're glad you like it."
For all the worries about how Pinehurst No. 2 would hold up for this week's U.S. Women's Open on the heels of the men's Open, everything so far seems to be just fine. The United States Golf Association is getting praised not flame-broiled by LPGA players.
"It's a lot better than what I thought it was going to be," world No. 1 Stacy Lewis said of the condition of this famed course in the Sandhills of North Carolina.
It's turned out great. There's some spots, but you can't even tell that the men were here the week before -- except for the huge tents and everything.Juli Inkster
Because the men played and thousands of fans walked here last week, there was trepidation about what the women would be dealing with. The extreme fear was that the grounds might look as if herds of elephants had stampeded through. And that there would be so many large divots left, the likes of 11-year-old Lucy Li might get lost in them.
A little hyperbole there, obviously. But ever since this "experiment" was announced -- the men and women playing their U.S. Open championships back-to-back on the same course -- many fears have been voiced. Now they seem to have been allayed.
"I thought, 'We've just got to see it, let it play out,'" said veteran Juli Inkster, playing in her 35th and likely final U.S. Women's Open. "Because this is new territory for everybody. And it's turned out great. There's some spots, but you can't even tell that the men were here the week before -- except for the huge tents and everything."
The infrastructure that's set up for the U.S. Open is a bit more vast than that for the women. Much of it stayed in place this week, although some of the grandstands were removed. In total, there was seating space for about 21,600 fans for the U.S. Open, and that's reduced to about 18,000 for the women. On No. 18, specifically, the seating will be for 1,560 compared with 4,077 for the men.
As for the course itself, the original aim of this endeavor was to give the men and women similar tests at the same place. The women don't hit the ball as far and tend to have less spin, but it's not that difficult to set up a course to take those things into account.
To that end, the USGA did extensive data collection throughout the men's championship week to determine which shots players were hitting, which clubs they used and whether they landed the ball on the green or bounced it up. The players' caddies and other data gatherers fed all this information back to the USGA to help plan for this week.
"We're finding, on average, there's about a 25-yard difference in terms of approach shots -- the clubs they hit -- from men to women," USGA executive director Mike Davis said. "Last week, the average 5-iron went 203 yards for the men. This week, the average 5-iron is going 175 yards.
"This is a wonderful way to say, 'OK, this is how it played last week, let's see if we can make it as close as possible to this week.' Knowing we can't control wind, and the fairways could be firmer or softer, depending on the kind of weather we get. But that's the research we've gone through."
The speed of the greens is expected to be virtually identical to what it was last week. A difference will be in the firmness of the greens and how they hold approach shots. Pinehurst No. 2 is known for its elevated, undulating greens that have limited successful landing spots.
The greens will still be extremely challenging this week, but they have been watered more.
The course itself, though, takes much less water since it's been redesigned in recent years to more accurately match what Donald Ross first constructed in 1907. That means a browner-looking venue on television, but that's not to be confused with an unhealthy course. To the contrary, USGA officials say Pinehurst is in perfect health and has played exactly as they hoped.
Lewis said the one thing that concerned her a bit was some of the divots left, especially on Nos. 1 and 10.
"But other than that, we're not hitting where the guys hit from the fairways," Lewis said. "The worst part is just those collection areas around the greens, which we all knew [how that] was going to be."
On a scale of 1 to 10, Lewis said she'd rate the course a 9, and she considers that high praise.
"The greens are perfect," she said. "On [the LPGA] Tour, a lot of weeks we don't get good greens like this. Honestly, it's a treat for us to be playing on these good, fast greens."
Some of the LPGA players watched the U.S. Open to get ideas on how to play Pinehurst No. 2. Others, including Lewis, did not watch as much, relying more on their own experiences in practice rounds played here both before this event and during this week.
Nobody on the women's side is expecting to match the 9-under 271 posted by U.S. Open winner Martin Kaymer -- but none of the male players came close, either. Kaymer won by eight shots.
The women do think they will navigate Pinehurst No. 2 with skill, and they enjoy what seems to be an added spotlight on the event because it's a doubleheader with the men. It might not be something that's repeated anytime soon, if ever, because there are limited courses that could pull this off. But so far, so good.
"Our U.S. Open has been talked about more than it's ever been," Inkster said. "We'll see how it goes, [but] I think the USGA knew what they were doing."
Cristie Kerr won the U.S. Women's Open the last time it was in this area, in 2007 at nearby Pine Needles. She is pleased the women are getting this chance to play Pinehurst No. 2 for their most prestigious tournament.
"It's important because people need to see how good we are," Kerr said. "We need to be on these big stages. We're elevating the game more by playing on this great venue."