Notebook: U.S. Open starts grand experiment
By Doug Ferguson, Associated Press
PINEHURST, N.C. – Too bad the USGA couldn't get Ernie Banks on the first tee Thursday to announce, "Let's play two!" Banks was known as "Mr. Cub," and he loved baseball so much he wished there could be a doubleheader every day.
That's effectively what awaits the USGA at Pinehurst No. 2.
For the first time in history, the U.S. Open and the U.S. Women's Open will be held on the same course in consecutive weeks. USGA Executive Director Mike Davis is excited about the grand experiment, though he's making no promises.
"Let me just stay that for the two weeks, our intent is to try to test both groups of golfers in a like manner," Davis said Wednesday. "Whether we're actually able to pull that off or not is another story that I think a lot of us – including me – are still waiting to see, although we're confident we can get pretty good at it."
The idea is to have men and women approach the greens with roughly the same type of shot.
Pinehurst will play 7,562 yards for the men and 6,649 yards for the women.
"If it happens to rain a lot in week two versus week one, we will take that under consideration in terms of how the golf course is set up," Davis said.
The comparison with men and women in golf is always the speed of the green. Davis said he intends to keep the putting surfaces at 12 on the Stimpmeter for both weeks. The difference is the greens for the Women's Open will be less firm.
"So if a male hits a 6-iron in, it reacts the same way as a 6-iron hit by the female," he said.
The big question has been divots that 156 players take over two days, and then roughly 70 more players take on the weekend. Davis doesn't expect that to be a problem. Playing from divots is part of the game, anyway.
Davis thinks it will be a great week. If nothing else, he expects it to showcase women's golf. But he can't make any promises.
"I will acknowledge, this sounds swell on paper," Davis said. "Trying to execute it perfectly, I can almost guarantee you we won't do that."
PEBBLE FUTURE: LPGA Tour players celebrated when the USGA announced nearly a decade ago that Pebble Beach would host a U.S. Women's Open. Seven years ago, when the U.S. Women's Open was at Pine Needles, former Executive Director David Fay said of the Women's Open going to Pebble, "We know the year – it's 2014 – but we have not finalized the date."
The year is 2014. The women are at Pinehurst No. 2.
As for Pebble Beach? That's no longer in the picture, at least for now.
USGA President Tom O'Toole said when the U.S. Open was at Pebble Beach in 2010, it was announced that the course along the Pacific Ocean would celebrate its centennial by hosting the 1918 U.S. Amateur and the 1919 U.S. Open.
"In those discussions, we mutually withdrew the concept of going there for `14 for the women," O'Toole said. "We will continue to advance the idea of taking the Women's Open to Pebble Beach.
"The conventional thinking was, `OK, we won't burden them in `14,'" he said. "We'll go there in `18, `19, and we'll talk of a future Women's Open thereafter."
NEXT UP FOR PINEHURST: Pinehurst No. 2 is hosting its third U.S. Open since 1999, the most any golf course has hosted an Open in such a short period of time in more than a century. It also had the U.S. Amateur in 2008.
The next USGA championship is right around the corner for the resort.
USGA President Tom O'Toole said Wednesday that Pinehurst has been selected to host the 2017 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship the last weekend in May.
Because there will be 256 players – 128 two-man teams – Pinehurst No. 2 and Pinehurst No. 4 will host the qualifying in stroke play, and then No. 2 will take the 32 teams who qualify for match play. Four-balls is also referred to as "better ball" in America.
The new championship starts next year at Olympic Club. It replaces the U.S. Amateur Public Links.
MICKELSON'S COMPLAINT: Phil Mickelson said Pinehurst No. 2 was simply awesome. At least 17 of the holes.
His only complaint is how the USGA switched up the par 5s on the front nine. The fourth hole played as a par 5 the last two times at about 565 yards. The fifth hole was a par 4 that measured about 480 yards.
For this year, No. 4 is a par 4 at 529 yards, while No. 5 is 576 yards and a par 5. Mickelson loves the change – he just doesn't like the extra length on No. 5
"When they made No. 5 a par 5, I thought it was the greatest decision because that green is the most difficult green out here and I thought it sure would be exciting to see us hitting long iron shots into a par 5 trying to make birdies and eagles," he said. "But when the tee boxes were moved so far back to where it's not reachable, now the shot we're hitting into that green is a 50-yard pitch shot.
"That's just not exciting, challenging, and won't have the same type of drama that it would have if those back tees were removed and the green was reachable in two."
WHAT, NO FOOT WEDGE?: Rory McIlroy isn't one to tinker with his clubs, but he's swapping out one of the four wedges he usually carries to make room for a 3-iron in the bag this week.
With Pinehurst No. 2 stretched to 7,562 yards this week, the former U.S. Open champion expects to use the 3-iron off several tees to keep the ball in the fairways on tight par 4s.
"I played, last Tuesday, I played one ball around here, tried to keep score, and I only had three wedge shots into greens," McIlroy said.
He's also planning to use the long shot on the par-5 10th.
"I'll play that as a three-shot hole. The par-3 sixth hole is another one that a 3-iron is going to be needed," he said. "I just felt like there's a few more 3-irons needed on this course."