The women took to the course Monday at Pinehurst No. 2, finally getting their chance to see the setup they’ll play in the U.S. Women’s Open.
Defending champion Inbee Park didn’t wait long, teeing off at 6:45 a.m. Early in the afternoon, 11-year-old Lucy Li got in her first swings of Open week.
Having played the course, having seen the danger areas and gauging the degree of difficulty of No. 2, some wondered how Martin Kaymer was able to go 9-under par in winning the U.S. Open.
“Very, very impressive,” said Jessica Korda, a winner on the LPGA Tour this year. “I took a little bit of a butt-kickin’ out there. We really didn’t know what the greens were really like, but hitting into them you’d be hitting great shots, but all of sudden you’d be in a bunker or one of the little (collection) areas.
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“There was a lot of learning today. It will be interesting to see where they put the pins for us compared to the guys.”
The answer: basically in the same spots. Bob Farren, Pinehurst director of golf course management, said Monday the plan was to keep roughly the same pin placements in each round, including the “Payne Stewart” pin at the 18th on Sunday.
Farren said the greens were not given a lot of water Sunday after the U.S. Open. U.S. Golf Association executive director Mike Davis said Sunday they’d get a “drink,” but Farren noted the greens received a “big guzzle” with the inch of rain that fell Thursday night.
Korda played Monday with Michelle Wie, Laura Diaz and Sierra Sims, a member of the Wake Forest golf team. Groups were told to limit their chip shots around the greens, but a lot of players putted two or three balls from different positions off the greens.
“It was interesting coming out to watch (Sunday) and actually playing it today,” Wie said. “I was surprised. There were no divots anywhere, so that was really a relief.”
Wie, whose victory in the LPGA Lotte Championship this year was her first on the tour since 2010, said Rickie Fowler and Keegan Bradley gave her their No. 2 yardage books. She said extra “notes” were added just for her, laughing and joking, “There were only a couple of inappropriate comments in there.”
As Wie spoke to the media just off the 18th green, part of the massive grandstand was being dismantled. It was a tangible sign of the lower attendance expected this week after the masses that turned out for the men.
The work didn’t go unnoticed by Danielle Kang, a former winner of the Women’s North & South Amateur in Pinehurst who is in her third year on the LPGA Tour.
“It was sad to see them taking down the grandstand,” said Kang, who also won U.S. Women’s Amateur titles in 2010 and 2011. “That should give us extra inspiration. People need to come out and see how good we are. One day we’ll get those bleachers back up.”
Much has been said about the first coupling of the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open in back-to-back weeks. There has been more exposure for the U.S. Women’s Open – few might know the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open will be at Lancaster Country Club in Lancaster, Pa. – and a chance for the women to test their games on the same course as the men.
“It’s history in many ways,” Annika Sorenstam, a three-time U.S. Women’s Open champion, said Monday. “I think it’s terrific the ladies are getting to play No. 2. I just talked to all the girls and they loved the golf course. It’s tricky but certainly a good test. It looks fun, it looks tough, it looks challenging and I like the rustic look.”
Sorenstam once tested her game against the men in the same tournament: the 2003 Colonial. This won’t be the same, she said, but it will bean opportunity for the women to showcase their talents a week after the men.
“I don’t know how many of the ladies are going to say, ‘I’m testing myself against the men,’ ” Sorenstam said. “They’re testing themselves with the challenge they have ahead of them.”
When Park won last year at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y., it was her second U.S. Women’s Open title within six years. The South Korean has lost her place atop the Rolex Women’s world rankings to Stacy Lewis of the United States, but she comes to Pinehurst off a victory in the Manulife Financial Classic in Waterloo, Ontario.
“That was great week for me,” said Park, who had a final-round 61. “That was big confidence-booster. It’s good to have the feeling you’re playing well.”
Especially in a U.S. Women’s Open and especially at No. 2.