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Men, women to compare their games at Pinehurst

Mike Davis, the executive director of the United States Golf Association, has heard all the speculation and pontification about why his organization decided to take the unprecedented step of holding both the men’s and women’s U.S. Open championships on consecutive weeks at Pinehurst No. 2 in June.

Money and convenience top the conversation list.

Ultimately, Davis said, the answer is simple.

“This was all about comparing the world’s best men with the world’s best women. That’s what it got down to,” Davis said Saturday during a news conference in conjunction with the USGA’s annual meeting at Pinehurst Resort.

The men’s U.S. Open will be played June 12-15 at Pinehurst No. 2 with the Women’s Open the following week. It’s possible, Davis said, that some of the top women’s players will be on site during the weekend of the men’s championship, and there’s even a plan to allow them to use the practice range on Sunday during the final round of the men’s Open.

If there’s a Monday playoff, the women will be allowed to play practice rounds once the playoff is under way.

Davis is scheduled to meet with LPGA players next month to discuss the Open doubleheader and, he hopes, to allay concerns that the Women’s Open will suffer because it will be played second on a course chewed up by the men’s Open.

“When you innovate things, there’s always risk with it and we know that going in, but we think there’s so many more upsides to this than potential downsides,” Davis said. “I think there’s a secondary intent here – it’s really to showcase women’s golf because I’m a big believer and I know others within the USGA are huge believers that the women just don’t get enough credit.”

With practically no rough around Pinehurst No. 2 – it has been replaced by sandy waste areas – it won’t be necessary to trim the rough for the Women’s Open. Green speeds will be the same for both Opens, but if the weather cooperates the greens will be slightly softer for the Women’s Open, Davis said.

The men will play a 7,500-yard, par-70 course, and the women will play from about 6,700 yards and par 70.

On four short par-4 holes – Nos. 1, 3, 7 and 13 – Davis said the men and women will hit tee shots into the same general area, raising a concern about fairway divots the second week. Otherwise, the course will be set up for the women to play approach shots from slightly different areas.

“If the men are hitting drivers, we want to see the women hitting drivers,” Davis said. “If the men are hitting, say, 6- to 8-irons for their approach shots, that’s what we want the women to do.”

Pinehurst No. 2 will look and play significantly different than when it hosted the 1999 and 2005 U.S Opens. About 35 acres of Bermuda grass rough was removed during a restoration project overseen by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, essentially leaving the course without rough.

It has allowed more than 700 irrigation heads to be removed from the course, leaving only an irrigation line down the middle of each fairway. The areas off the fairway are left to nature, an area of increasing emphasis within the USGA, which is working with courses to reduce maintenance and water costs.

“It’s really a throwback to the old days,’ Davis said.

Notes: Payne Stewart, winner of the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst, was posthumously awarded the Bob Jones award, the organization’s highest honor. Stewart will be honored at the 2014 U.S. Open in June.

USGA president Tom O’Toole indicated the organization would not alter its Jan. 1, 2016 start date to ban anchored putting. PGA Tour commissioner and PGA of America president Ted Bishop were scheduled to meet Saturday with USGA officials about the possibility of grandfathering the ban to allow amateurs to use the method beyond 2015.

“We’re looking forward to implementing that on January 1 of ’16,” O’Toole said.

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