As this fortnight of U.S. Open golf grinds toward its sweat-stained conclusion, the Women’s Open might have the big-bang finish that Martin Kaymer destroyed in the men’s Open.
When USGA and Pinehurst officials were imagining what could happen over these two weeks, asking for world No. 1 Stacy Lewis and Michelle Wie – No. 1 in female golf star power – at or near the top of the leader board after 36 holes in the U.S. Women’s Open might have seemed a tad greedy.
But here they are with Wie in the lead, Lewis giving chase and LPGA stars Lexi Thompson, Paula Creamer and Karrie Webb, among others, close enough to be relevant characters as the weekend begins.
Wie is the most important player in women’s golf because she draws attention like no one else in her sport. Lewis is an exceptional talent with a compelling backstory but, for better and worse, Wie has been part of the public conversation for a decade.
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This might be her time.
And this is a great time for women’s professional golf.
While the PGA Tour has been wondering when Tiger Woods will return (next week, we learned unexpectedly on Friday), wondering when Phil Mickelson will find what’s been lost and wondering what’s going on and off with Rory McIlroy, the women’s game is riding a wave that still seems to be building.
Television ratings have jumped this year in a majority of events. Social media followers on the various platforms have increased substantially and the season-long storyline has had more crackle than on the men’s side.
Lewis regained the No. 1 ranking. Wie finally won again and in her home state of Hawaii. Thompson won the first of what might be many majors when she beat Wie in the Kraft Nabisco in April.
Following the men’s U.S. Open on Pinehurst No. 2 this week has been a masterstroke for the women, whose Open has attracted more attention because it’s been paired with the men’s championship. Of course, the men didn’t have an ice cream-eating 11-year-old in pigtails in the field. Lucy Li didn’t make the cut, but she captivated the crowds on site and in front of televisions.
Put aside the argument for or against an 11-year-old playing in the Women’s Open, to watch Li at Pinehurst was a reminder of how much fun it’s supposed to be, even when shots are rolling off No. 2’s torturous slopes and ridges.
Once former USGA executive director David Fay conceived of this Open doubleheader and his successor, Mike Davis, was put in charge of pulling it off, it has had the feel of a grand experiment.
“I think it has been an unqualified success,” Fay said by phone Friday, having dropped in last weekend to get a first-hand feel for what he imagined.
The players seem to agree.
“They gambled and they came out on top. They should go to a casino,” Morgan Pressel said, despite missing the cut.
Creamer was among a large group of LPGA players who roamed No. 2 on Sunday watching the final round of Kaymer’s clinical performance.
“I think they have definitely accomplished (showing) that we can play,” Creamer said. “It’s just so different how they (men) play it and how we play it.”
Not everyone loved the third hole being played as a 229-yard par-4 Friday, but Davis and USGA should be commended for varying the set-up, even if it caused Pressel to hit a 9-iron off the tee and a wedge into the green.
Two long, hot, difficult days remain. For Wie, the opportunity is immense. Just as it was when the USGA and Pinehurst decided to make this happen.