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April 21, 2014

Coupling men’s and women’s U.S. Open championships presents challenges at Pinehurst

It always has been an interesting concept: hold the U.S. Open and U.S. Women's Open in back-to-back weeks on the same golf course. But there could be problems.

It always has been an intriguing concept: hold the U.S. Open and U.S. women’s Open in back-to-back weeks on the same golf course.

The U.S. Golf Association is doing that during June on Pinehurst No 2. In theory, the excitement level should be high for this unprecedented coupling of majors, or a “celebration of golf” as it’s being trumpeted.

USGA President Thomas O’Toole praised the “specialness of this opportunity” Monday during a media day at the resort. USGA executive director Mike Davis promised a challenging and equal test for men and women on No. 2, which he called an “iconic golf course.”

“Personally I think this is the coolest thing ever,” said Vicki Goetze-Ackerman, president of the LPGA player directors.

But with any new undertaking there invariably will be unexpected problems – some bigger than others.

O’Toole, during his opening remarks, referred to the “2013 U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open.” That was corrected easily by inserting “2014” into the transcript of the news conference.

What’s known is that the men’s U.S. Open will be played first, June 12-15. They will find a course that stretches to 7,562 yards and should be in immaculate shape, with the fairways pristine and the greens firm and Open fast.

And when the women come in?

They’re already uneasy about having to play some shots from the repaired divots made by the men in fairways and collection areas around the greens. And if there’s a run of hot, humid weather, the condition of the bent-grass greens will be anybody’s guess.

“The greens are going to stress a little bit,” Davis said.

Davis said the primary factor in holding the U.S. Women’s Open second is that while the speed of the greens will be the same both weeks, they can be made softer and thus more receptive to approach shots with less spin than the men’s.

“This all sounds wonderful on paper (and) I can assure you we have spent a lot of time thinking about this,” Davis said. “Will we get it perfect? I can guarantee you we will not get this thing perfect. But the idea is we’re going to try to get them to play the same golf course.”

Davis said he has been asked often about the decision to hold the U.S. Open first. Some questions came from the LPGA pros, when Davis attended a players meeting last month in Phoenix.

Asked about the divot situation, Davis said he replied, “Divots are just part of the game.”

“I think half of them scowled and half of them laughed,” he said Monday.

But there were more questions about practice rounds, practice facilities, housing and transportation. If the U.S. Open ends in a tie after 72 holes, an 18-hole playoff would be played on Monday, June 16, which is scheduled to be the first day for women’s practice rounds.

There’s no way of knowing how it will play out.

“The only reservation is the golf course,” said Goetze-Ackerman, who won the 1989 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Pinehurst No. 2. “Any player, man or woman, would want to be on a golf course first. But saying someone has to go second and us following the men, from the standpoint of the coverage and the exposure it will actually be more positive for us than going first.

“Saying that, I hope the weather cooperates. I know the USGA and Pinehurst will do everything physically and financially possible to create the best possible venue for the women. So we go in definitely seeing more positives than negatives.”

Volunteers won’t be a problem. More than 6,000 positions have been filled.

Ticket sales are going well, U.S. Open championships director Reg Jones said, noting 90 percent have been sold. He said the resort is expecting 50,000 to 55,000 spectators on peak days during the U.S. Open and 20,000-25,000 for the U.S. Women’s Open.

“Will things pop up? Yes, things will pop up,” Goetze-Ackerman said. “But things pop up when we don’t have back-to-back Opens, too.

“Neither Pinehurst nor the USGA want to have egg on their face. They want it to be as good as possible. I feel confident it’s going to be OK. Overall, I think this is great for women’s golf.”

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