The U.S. Women’s Open will receive unprecedented exposure this week when it is played just days after the men’s U.S. Open wraps up on Pinehurst’s famed No. 2.
The same can be said of the golf course, too, however, and that might not be such a good thing for the women playing on it. After a recently completed week’s worth of play by the men, the course won’t have time to regenerate into the type of condition to which the women are accustomed when they play a major tournament.
“It’s one of those things where you really don’t know until it happens,” said LPGA player and television commentator Karen Stupples. “But do the LPGA players have concerns? Naturally. Every year they go to a U.S. Open course that is pristine. Now they’re going to a course where the men have just played.”
The recent renovation of No. 2 effectively got rid of the course’s rough and replaced it with wiry grass planted on sandy ground. Without the rough, the course is more adaptable to the women’s game. Hence, the idea of playing both Opens on the same course.
But trepidation by the women about the possible course condition has been there since U.S. Golf Association executive director Mike Davis broached the subject at an LPGA players meeting earlier this year. At the meeting, Davis said one factor might be divot marks from the men’s tournament still pocking the fairways.
“I said, ‘Divots are just part of the game,’ ” Davis recalled. “I think half the players scowled at me and half of them laughed. So I’m not sure.”
Lizette Salas, who won for the first time on May 18, was in that meeting and listening intently to Davis.
“We’ll see,” she said. “He said they’re part of the game. Hopefully I can practice out of some divots because I’m pretty sure that’s what’s going to happen at the U.S. Open. It could be really good or really bad. We’re just hoping for the best.”
So, while the women understand the potential value of playing back-to-back Opens on one of the world’s great courses, they also have their reservations.
“Everybody is going to be concerned about what the week will bring,” said Jessica Korda, a three-time winner on the LPGA Tour. “You know what the golf course is going to look like every (other) year when you get to a U.S. Open. You’ve got fresh cut grass. It’s in amazing condition. It’s untouched for … months or weeks. The concern is there for everybody for the women.”
The divot issue actually might not be much of a factor. Davis said the course will be set up so that the men and women will hit the same clubs into greens – meaning they will be in different areas after their tee shots.
“If the men are hitting a wedge in and it’s kind of a bounce-stop, that’s what we’ll want for the women,” said Davis. “If the women are hitting a 6‑iron in and it’s a bounce-bounce-stop. That’s what we want for the men.”
Other factors, including pin placements, bunker preparation and greens speed, are also the same for both tournaments.
“So I suppose that if I was playing in the women’s Open, I would be watching very, very closely that first week,” Davis said. “Because they’re going to get an idea of where a hole location is going to be and how the setup is going to be. But that again gets back to some of the intent of having (the tournaments) back-to-back.”
But there will be differences.
“You’ll see the PGA players in the shrubbery,” Stupples said. “But us not so much; we tend to be a lot straighter. The men are stronger and play different kind of shots and sometimes put more spin on their wedges. Whereas the women have more running (types of) shots.”
With how the USGA wants greens to play in a U.S. Open – usually hard and fast – there also will be more strain on the putting surfaces by the time the women play.
“When you hold a major championship, the USGA will dry out the greens pretty good to get them firm and fast,” said Karrie Webb, who won the Open in 2001 at nearby Pine Needles in Southern Pines. “That stresses the grass out to its ultimate. So to be asking the grass to do that for two weeks is tough.
“It probably will affect our practice rounds a little bit. I think they’re going to pour lots of water on the course after the men are finished. I think our practice rounds might be a little bit interrupted.”
Said Stupples: “The USGA did this for a reason, and only they can answer what their logic and reason was for it. But from the LPGA perspective, it gives us a showcase on the same course as the guys.”
Staff writer Chip Alexander contributed.