Phil Mickelson promised he would be watching. So did Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and others.
Having played the U.S. Open a week ago on Pinehurst No. 2, the men have turned the course over to the women. On Thursday, the U.S. Women’s Open begins its four-day run on the famous course in the Sandhills, with its turtle-back greens, browning fairways and unpredictable waste areas.
Martin Kaymer won the U.S. Open with a 9-under 271 total, but everyone else in the field was 1-under or higher and the scoring average for the field was 73.07 strokes. Now, it’s the women’s turn to have a go at No. 2.
“I’m going to tune in and just to see how they fare,” McIlroy said before departing Sunday.
The U.S. Golf Association says it wants a comparable test for the women on No. 2, more than mindful the women don’t bomb 330-yard drives or hit 190-yard 7-iron approaches. And the women like the idea of getting on a U.S. Open championship course – one with the stature of No. 2 – just after the men.
“I really think it’s a win/win for the women,” Juli Inkster, a two-time U.S. Women’s Open champion, said Wednesday. “Our U.S. Open has been talked about more than it has ever. And it was fun to hear the guys say, ‘Hey, I’m really looking forward to seeing how the women play it next week.’
“It’s never been done. I think it’s nothing but positives. We’ll just see how it goes. I think the USGA knew what they were doing. I think they’re going to set it up relatively the same as the men, but with shorter distance. It will be interesting to see how we do.”
It won’t be USGA officials using only their best judgment in setting up the course. While many of the pin placements from the U.S. Open will be used for the women – not much guesswork there – USGA executive director Mike Davis said reams of data will be used for setup decisions.
Davis said in three practice rounds and four days of the U.S. Open there were 50,000 data points. There were volunteers at each green, noting if the player hit the green, or had his ball hit and roll off a green, how soon a ball stopped once on the green.
Davis said the men’s caddies also were paid a stipend for more information: what clubs their players used off each teeing ground, what was hit into the greens, the distances of the approach shots.
“This data has all been put into a computer,” David said. “We look at that data and say, okay, this is the first hole. This is what they’re hitting off. This is the range. This is what they’re hitting into the green. This is how it’s reacting.
“We take that and look with our firmness readings, our moisture readings, and it really give us a picture of, OK, here’s how the men played week one. Now what we’re really trying to do is make little adjustments by watching, how are the women playing so far on week two. It’s been fascinating.”
The USGA announced Wednesday the women will play for a $4 million purse, a $750,000 million increase from the 2013 Women’s Open but well below the $9 million paid for the U.S. Open. The No. 2 course will play to a maximum of 6,649 yards although Ben Kimball, director of the U.S. Women’s Open Championship, said it would not play that long on any of the four days but that the setup strategy would be similar with some drivable par-4 holes.
“We have intended this course to be set up in a similar fashion for both championship weeks,” Kimball said. “We are confident that we have gotten this right on paper, but due to the architectural nature of Pinehurst No. 2 we’re not going to be perfect in every area, on every shot.”
Stacy Lewis, the top-ranked women’s player in the world, noted the men were hitting wedge and 9-iron approaches into the 18th green in the U.S. Open. She said she hit a 4-iron Tuesday in her practice round.
“So I think there’s some holes that, yeah, they’re going to play similar, but then there’s some holes that we hit hybrids into,” Lewis said. “I didn’t see any of the guys hitting hybrids into any holes. So it will be interesting to see what they do with the setup.”
One thing will be the same for men and women. As Jessica Korda said, “This golf course can eat you up.”
For months, several of the women golfers fretted about how chewed up No. 2 would be after the men were through with it. Those fears have been alleviated. The greens are firm – albeit not as firm as for the men – and the divots minimal.
Inkster, 53 and in her 35th U.S. Women’s Open, is ready for the test. So is Lucy Li, 11 years old and the youngest ever to qualify for the Women’s Open.
Forget all the data points and course micromanagement. Low score – whether it’s 9-under or 9-over this week – wins. It’s time to play, again.
“The men proved under par is possible,” said Inbee Park, the defending U.S. Women’s Open champion. “So we should go out and try to shoot under par, too.”