LIVING THE DREAM

Jun. 18, 2014 @ 09:44 PM

When then-North Carolina freshman Catherine O’Donnell heard in 2009 that the U.S. Women’s Open was coming to Pinehurst No. 2, she called her father and told him she would play in it.

Five years later, she called him from a qualifying tournament in Rumson, N.J.

“She said, ‘Dad, I was the medallist,’” Michael O’Donnell said. “I started crying, and then she started crying, and then I called her mother and her mother started crying. Because it’s such a big deal.”

With just two spots available in a field of 57, O’Donnell and 1987 U.S. Women’s Open champion Laura Davies were able to qualify.

The 2012 UNC graduate will tee off from No. 10 at 7:07 a.m. today along with 11-year-old Lucy Li, the youngest qualifier in the history of the tournament.

“Maybe I’ll get some TV coverage — that’s the first thing that went through my mind,” O’Donnell said. “I’m interested to see how (Li) plays. Honestly I’m just glad to be here. It didn’t matter who I was paired with.”

O’Donnell introduced herself to Li in the players’ dining area on Tuesday so that Li would see a familiar face today and not be overwhelmed. While this is also O’Donnell’s first U.S. Open, she has a reason to feel comfortable at Pinehurst — a long history at the North and South Women’s Amateur has given her almost 30 competitive rounds on the course.

That familiarity with Pinehurst, along with its proximity to Chapel Hill and the historic nature of this year’s tournament — it’s being played on the same course immediately following the men’s U.S. Open for the first time — were all big reasons why O’Donnell so badly wanted to make the field this year.

O’Donnell rented a house this week at Pinehurst — the same one used by Phil Mickelson last week — to accommodate her large following.

“We’ve been like Ticketmaster,” said Michael, the president and CEO of Ruth’s Chris Steak House. “Everybody that knows her at Carolina’s been calling, ‘Can you get tickets?’”

A two-time high school state champion goalie from Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., O’Donnell was able to watch the World Cup and play cornhole with her friends at the house this week — but she also commandeered the private guesthouse on the property to make sure she gets her rest for the biggest event of her career.

After graduating from UNC in 2012 as a four-time all-ACC selection, O’Donnell has spent the past two seasons on the Symetra Tour, the level below the LPGA Tour.

“You keep saying ‘Wow.’ We drive in here and park in the players’ parking lot and I’m talking to Annika Sorenstam. It’s amazing,” Michael O’Donnell said. “We’re all hopeful that this isn’t the last Open she plays in, but we sure are taking in everything we can take in, because it’s such a unique experience.”

 

2ND WEEK OF U.S. OPEN GOLF WON’T BE SAME AS THE FIRST ONE

BY DOUG FERGUSON, Associated Press

PINEHURST — The sounds at Pinehurst No. 2 were the first indication that the second week of U.S. Open golf would not be exactly the same as the first one.

Players arrived on the first day of practice to hear clanging from workers tearing down half of the grandstands around the 17th and 18th greens. They heard the whoosh of water coming from a hose that watered the greens to keep them softer.

That didn’t make the stage for the U.S. Women’s Open feel any smaller.

“We play good golf courses, but sometimes we don’t play great golf courses,” said Juli Inkster, playing the Women’s Open for the 35th time. “It seems the men play great golf courses week in and week out. I think when we come here, we’re maybe a little more appreciative of playing a great golf course. It’s in fabulous shape. I really didn’t know what to expect, us playing after the men. And it’s turned out great.

“You can’t even tell that the men were here the week before — except for the huge tents and everything.”

The U.S. Women’s Open gets started Thursday (June 19) in golf’s version of a doubleheader. Just four days after Martin Kaymer won the U.S. Open with the second-lowest score in history (271), it’s the women’s turn.

Everyone from the 53-year-old Inkster to 11-year-old Lucy Li will get a crack on a Donald Ross course fresh on the minds of golf fans who watched the U.S. Open last week.

“Last week with the men, they proved that under par is possible,” defending champion Inbee Park said. “So yeah, we should go out there and try to shoot under par.”

It’s the first time the men and women have competed on the same golf course for a major in back-to-back weeks.

Pinehurst No. 2 will play at 6,649 for the women — just over 900 yards shorter than for the men — though it most likely won’t play as long as the card indicated, just as it didn’t a week ago.

The plan is for the greens to be the same speed, except a lot less firm. Even though a shorter course should allow the women to use the same clubs, the majority do not hit the ball as high or with as much spin.

And then there are the optional extras.

Reg Jones, the senior director of both U.S. Opens, said bleachers around the 18th green that seated 4,077 seats now are big enough for 1,560 fans. Six supplemental concession stands have closed.

The USGA refers to this doubleheader as a celebration of women’s golf. It sounds a bit more like an experiment.

No one is sure what to expect.

Cristie Kerr, who won her U.S. Women’s Open up the road at Pine Needles in 2007, already was concerned about the weed-filled sandy areas that replaced thick rough. Kaymer last week hit a 7-iron from 202 yards out of the scrub area to 5 feet for eagle on No. 5, one of the more pivotal shots of his blowout win.

“The native areas — the ‘stuff’ they were calling it last week — that’s going to play a lot tougher for us than it is for the men,” Kerr said. “We’re hitting longer clubs out of it than the men are. We’re not hitting down on it as much.

“So it plays tougher for us. They wanted us to hit the same clubs into the greens as the men. But I have to tell you, we’re hitting longer clubs into the greens than the men and we don’t spin it as much.”

What will that mean to a sixth-grade girl?

Li has been the biggest attraction this week as the youngest qualifier in U.S. Women’s Open history, and with a chance to become the youngest player to make the cut. Marlene Bauer was 13 when she tied for 14th in the 1947 U.S. Women’s Open in Greensboro.

“The perfect week? I just want to go out there and have fun and play the best I can,” Li said. “And I really don’t care about the outcome.”

The biggest fear was the amount of divots left behind from the men, though that doesn’t appear to be a problem.

“We really feel like we’re well-positioned for a great championship this week,” USGA executive director Mike Davis said.

The biggest concern is making sure the greens don’t get so crusty from temperatures expected to approach 100 degrees that it’s impossible for balls to stay on the green.

As soon as the U.S. Open ended, the maintenance staff applied water to the greens in four-minute cycles, three times a day. It plans to water the greens every night.

“They’ve obviously chucked a lot of waters on the greens since Sunday,” Laura Davies said after her practice round Tuesday. “I didn’t have one shot bounce crazy off the back of the green. I think we all thought that it should have been the other way around — we all felt we should have come here first and then the guys.

“But I think the USGA has got it spot on. Because they have turned the course around ... and gone from a Sunday of a U.S. Open to having it play really fair at the moment.

“I’m sure by next Sunday it will be hard and bouncy, and we’re all going to be complaining like we always do.”


COMMENTARY: GIVE YOURSELF A WEEKEND TO TAKE IN THE WOMEN’S OPEN

BY JIM LITKE, Associated Press Sports Columnist


PINEHURST — Men generally don’t watch women play golf.

This weekend, though, they should.

Not all of those men will tune into the U.S. Women’s Open for the right reasons, mind you, but it could turn out to be a win either way. In spite of themselves, some might actually learn a lot. It’s what happens pretty much every time you send women out to do a man’s job.

Calling the tournament that begins Thursday (June 19) at Pinehurst No. 2 the latest installment in the “Battle of the Sexes” would be a stretch, not to mention a little stale. Yes, the women will be playing the same course the men played last week in the U.S. Open, but it will be some 900 yards shorter. The tees will be up, the flags will be easier to get at, the weather will be different and so on. There’s a dozen other variables that make it an apples-to-oranges comparison. But the comparison will be made nonetheless.

So let’s get the most important one out of the way first: unless you play golf for a living or on scholarship, you couldn’t break 100 on either course.

Most of us can’t hit two good shots in a row, let alone as many as five. Pros of both sexes struggle with that, which is why they call golf a game of misses. But instead of trying to overpower a golf course, most women work their way around it. There are exceptions, of course, long-hitting Lexi Thompson to be sure. But what anyone can learn by watching most of the women play is how to miss a lot better, not to mention a lot less.

You’ll notice that from the very first tee shot. Unlike most men, nearly all of the women will try to hit the ball only as far as they can hit it straight.

“You could make the fairways as wide as this,” said two-time men’s U.S. Open champion and ESPN analyst Andy North, pointing down one of the aisles inside the press tent at Pinehurst, “and some of them still wouldn’t miss a fairway for the entire month.”

You’ll see the same thinking applied to every other shot on the course. When they miss fairways and wind up in the scruffy, beach-like patches of sand lining the fairways, instead of attempting the hero shot, they’ll chip out and cut their losses. They’ll rely more on their wedges and putters — clubs that don’t require much strength — to score. That’s what teaching pros tell every male golfer, from mid-handicappers to retirees, but the message rarely gets through all those thick skulls.

Maybe four days of shining examples will make a dent.

“That’s the thing,” said Missy Jones, the only women among the 20 rules officials who will be working the U.S. Open this week. “If you watched the men play this course, you saw all of them throwing approach shots high up in the air, trying to get them to stay on the greens. Only so many women will be in a position to do that. Our game is played along the ground a lot more. ... But that’s true for most men, too.

“And if they thought about it that way, if they thought about where to leave the ball so the next shot was a lot easier,” she added, “a lot of ‘em would be a lot happier when they played golf.”

Whether that lesson gets through to a lot of men this weekend could depend in large part on how the USGA’s experiment turns out. The stated goal in setting up a course is to “identify” the best golfer that week. Only three men finished in the red last week and only winner Martin Kaymer really played Pinehurst like he was up to the test. No matter what happens in the women’s event — whether someone like top-ranked Stacy Lewis tears it up this week, or a dozen players you’ve never heard of manage to — judgments will be rendered and comparisons made.

What men should do instead is pay attention to why women plot their way around the shortened course. What they lack in testosterone, they will make up for with smarts. And every man who owns a set of golf clubs would benefit from a little less of the former and a lot more of the latter.

___

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org and follow him at http://www.twitter.com/JimLitke


COMMENTARY: USGA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR RESPONSIBLE FOR SETTING UP ‘DOUBLEHEADER’

BY DOUG FERGUSON, Associated Press


PINEHURST — No one might be under more pressure at Pinehurst No. 2 than Mike Davis.

And he’s not even playing.

Davis is the executive director of the USGA and the person responsible for setting up the course for golf’s ultimate doubleheader — the U.S. Open one week, followed immediately by the U.S. Women’s Open. For two weeks in North Carolina, golf becomes like tennis.

Except no one ever tried to slow the grass courts at Wimbledon.

His task is to make Pinehurst No. 2 play the same for men and women, respective of their strength and skill. It’s one thing to move the tees forward by some 900 yards for the women. The fairways are at the same width. The plan is for the greens to be the same speed. The difficulty is making the greens soft enough so that a golf ball struck with the same club responds the same way.

To his credit, Davis already has conceded that the odds of getting it right are about the same as Tiger Woods winning the Grand Slam this year.

And that’s where perception becomes a big part of the equation.

Some of the men privately grumbled last week during the practice rounds — when Pinehurst No. 2 was firm, crusty and brutal — that the USGA surely would pour water on the greens after the U.S. Open and the women would wind up with the lower scores.

This was before Martin Kaymer turned in an exquisite performance and posted the second-lowest score in U.S. Open history at 9-under 271.

And that’s what makes Karrie Webb worried.

“I’m thinking the other way,” Webb, a two-time Open champion, said Tuesday morning on the range. “I’m thinking the USGA didn’t get the score they wanted to win for the men, so they’ll get it from us. But Kaymer just played really well this year.”

Make the golf course too hard, and Davis might get accused of trying to embarrass them. Make it too easy, and the women might not get the respect they deserve.

Is it worth it?

The party line from the USGA is that playing this doubleheader is a wonderful chance to showcase the women’s game.

“It’s like hockey,” said Meg Mallon, a two-time Women’s Open champion and Detroit Red Wings fan. “You have to see it in person to appreciate how good it is.”

Money most likely was at the bottom of this. Staging two championships on the same course two weeks apart saves operational expenses, for sure. And taking the women to Pinehurst only happened after Pebble Beach changed direction in its plans to host them for the first time.

Either way, Davis was partly curious to see how the women would compare.

The men and women have played the same courses — such as Baltusrol, Cherry Hills, and most recently Oakmont — but never in the same year. Angel Cabrera won at Oakmont, reputed to be the toughest of U.S. Open courses, at 3-over 285. Paula Creamer won at Oakmont three years later at 3-under 281.

Davis said it was set up the same with green speeds, fairway widths and relative distance. He didn’t have many believers because of the three-year window.

“So I think given the fact that these are back-to-back, it’s going to showcase just how good the females can play the game,” he said.

Before a shot is struck — whether it’s from 53-year-old Juli Inkster or 11-year-old Lucy Li — this U.S. Women’s Open feels more like Judgment Day than a major.

“I think they’re definitely going to try and compare us,” Michelle Wie said. “It will be like, ‘Oh, they played it this way, I want to see how they play it.’ But I think it really puts us in the spotlight, which I think is great for our tour. We’re making history this week. I think it’s a great opportunity for us to show everyone how great we are because we can directly compare ourselves with the men. Hopefully, it opens a door for many future events like this.”

The trouble is women have always gotten the short stick in comparisons.

Alison Nicholas won at 10-under par at Pumpkin Ridge in 1997 and the course was too easy. Se Ri Pak won in a playoff at Blackwolf Run at 6-over par a year later and the women just weren’t very good. Roger Maltbie could have weighed in — it wasn’t a fair fight.

At least more people will be paying attention. That’s never a bad thing.

 

GROUPINGS & TEE TIMES FOR THURSDAY, JUNE 19 OPENING ROUND

at Pinehurst No. 2

      (a) denotes amateur status All Times in EDT
Group Tee Time   Players
1 1 6:45a  
2 10 6:45a  
3 1 6:56a  
4 10 6:56a  
5 1 7:07a  
6 10 7:07a  
7 1 7:18a  
8 10 7:18a  
9 1 7:29a  
10 10 7:29a  
11 1 7:40a  
12 10 7:40a  
13 1 7:51a  
14 10 7:51a  
15 1 8:02a  
16 10 8:02a  
17 1 8:13a  
18 10 8:13a  
19 1 8:24a  
20 10 8:24a  
21 1 8:35a  
22 10 8:35a  
23 1 8:46a  
24 10 8:46a  
25 1 8:57a  
26 10 8:57a  
27 1 12:30p  
28 10 12:30p  
29 1 12:41p  
30 10 12:41p  
31 1 12:52p  
32 10 12:52p  
33 1 1:03p  
34 10 1:03p  
35 1 1:14p  
36 10 1:14p  
37 1 1:25p  
38 10 1:25p  
39 1 1:36p  
40 10 1:36p  
41 1 1:47p  
42 10 1:47p  
43 1 1:58p  
44 10 1:58p  
45 1 2:09p  
46 10 2:09p  
47 1 2:20p  
48 10 2:20p  
49 1 2:31p  
50 10 2:31p  
51 1 2:42p  
52 10 2:42p