PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — Thanks to an amazing restoration project led by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, and plenty of cooperation from Mother Nature, two weeks of U.S. Open golf at Pinehurst No. 2 could not have gone much better. It really was double the pleasure.
The next step for the USGA is to avoid what Hollywood has never understood: Don’t bother with a sequel.
The USGA wanted to provide a similar test for the men and women over consecutive weeks. With few exceptions — the par-5 10th hole for the women, as an example — it got it just right. Perhaps the most telling statistic was the scoring average in the final round.
For the men it was 72.40. For the women it was 72.39.
Only three men finished 72 holes under par, led by Martin Kaymer and his majestic play. Michelle Wie was the only woman under par.
Don’t underestimate the importance of weather. Each week featured one burst of showers overnight, but otherwise scorching weather allowed setup specialists Mike Davis and Ben Kimball confidence that the course would play relatively similarly.
“We got to control the situation,” said Davis, the USGA’s executive director.
Those in search of a conspiracy can claim the USGA protected the golf course for the men to make sure it was still in reasonable shape for the women. That would be undermining the brilliant play of Kaymer, who produced the second-lowest score in U.S. Open history at 271.
“You take Martin out and we have two guys at 1 under, which is typical for a U.S. Open,” Davis said.
He also knows that would have been the last thing anyone wanted — an 18-hole playoff Monday, making the women wait another day to take over the course.
Not that it stopped them. The USGA allowed the women to use the practice range on Sunday of the U.S. Open. It was cool, and a little awkward. Rickie Fowler was in the last group of a major for the first time, and 45 minutes before he teed off, he was sharing the practice green with six women.
“I like being around women,” Fowler said.
Not even Kaymer seemed to mind, though it probably helped that he had a five-shot lead. Still, it was a reminder that they had as much right to Pinehurst as the men. Plus, they were treated to inside-the-ropes access for the final round of the U.S. Open. Wie and Jessica Korda were among those walking with Kaymer and Fowler.
Wie even allowed herself to imagine she was walking up the 18th fairway with a comfortable lead. Her dream came true a week later.
The goal was for the greens to be at the same speed each day for two weeks, and that’s what it was. There was no need to trim the rough for the women because there was no rough. The difference was the greens, watered just enough after the U.S. Open that the challenge was equal for the women.
Mike “Fluff” Cowan, a longtime caddie and glutton for punishment, worked for Jim Furyk one week and Lydia Ko the next.
“The golf course was pretty much the same,” Cowan said Tuesday. “It was very playable. In places it was too short for the women. The tees were moved around, just like they were for the men.”
As for club selection between Furyk and Ko?
“Not on every hole, but within reason, it was semi-similar,” he said.
This was a different U.S. Open in so many ways. It was as much brown as it was green. The fairways were wider than usual, though the edges were so firm and crusty that tee shots that were off line ran into the native sandy areas. Some of the lies in the scrub were fine. Some were not. Either way, it allowed for some exciting recovery shots.
Kaymer hit a 7-iron from 202 yards out of the native area to 5 feet for eagle on the fifth hole. Lexi Thompson all but duplicated the shot exactly a week later, only she hit 5-iron from 195 yards (and had to settle for birdie).
For those who stayed two weeks, it really was like Groundhog Day. That’s the highest compliment the USGA could hope to receive. Really, the only differences were the names and the genders (not to mention the ages, particularly 11-year-old Lucy Li).
The U.S. Open returns to “normal” next year. The men will be at Chambers Bay outside Seattle. The women will be at Lancaster Country Club in Pennsylvania, a William Flynn design good enough to host the men if had a little more space for the big show golf has become. Starting in 2018, the plan is for the women to be the opening act on the USGA calendar of championship, with a permanent date the week after Memorial Day.
That would seem to preclude this doubleheader from happening again.
And that wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen.
Why ruin such a great memory? Why risk two weeks of bad weather (Bethpage Black in 2009 comes to mind) and invite chaos and criticism?
Davis and his staff, along with the Pinehurst crew, should take a bow.
And then exit stage right.
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