In some ways, the 2009 version of Bethpage Black ' which Tiger Woods referred to as a big ballpark earlier this week ' will be akin to the new Yankee Stadium, that is to say bigger. The U.S. Golf Association and architect Rees Jones have quietly added 203 yards to the layout since 2002. Whether the added real-estate will make for a tougher test will depend largely on the weather the third week of June and the wherewithal of Mike Davis, the USGAs top set-up man.
The Bethpage Open will be Davis third championship as the associations top set-up man and the unassuming man from Far Hills, N.J., has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt following widely heralded stops at Oakmont in 2007 and last year at Torrey Pines.
Players may worry when they see a Black course that can be stretched past 7,400 yards, spooky stuff considering that Woods was the only player to finish under par the last time the Open was played at the games most public major venue. But Davis and Jones look at the nip/tucks and see options.
Its a lot of little stuff that means a lot, Jones said. I reacted to what Mike wanted which was more tee options and more opportunities for accessible pin positions. It makes the pros think more.
Jones said the course will probably not play longer than 7,300 yards, noting that Davis had some 7,600 yards of prime SoCal real-estate at Torrey Pines last year but didnt approach that distance during the championship. For its part the USGA normally doesnt tip its hand so far in advance of a championship, but even Davis concedes that just because he has 200 more yards to work with doesnt mean he will use it.
Were trying to mix teeing grounds up. Whether it plays a yard longer than it did in 2002, I doubt it, Davis said.
The new scorecard may scream more ' with new or extended tees at nine holes including an additional 51 yards at the 13th hole, 42 yards at the ninth and 36 yards at the seventh (the fourth-toughest hole in 02) ' but players will likely be pleasantly surprised to learn there also will be more fairway, more options and more scoring opportunities awaiting them at the years second major.
Davis said that at least one of the biggest concerns from the 02 Open was the carry to the 10th and 12th fairways. As a result, the fairway at the 10th has been moved 40 yards closer to the tee and he said the USGA will adjust the tee at the 12th depending on the conditions.
If its a cold, wet week we could have a new teeing ground that we never use, Davis said. The changes are not huge but Id like to think we made the course more playable.
The fairway at the seventh hole, a demanding par 4, may be the best example of the more user-friendly Bethpage. For this years championship the fairway will be twice as wide, from about 24 yards across to almost 50 yards, and a new tee box will create a different angle that will allow players to be more aggressive.
We are going to give you a beast of a hole but were going to give you some room to play it, Davis said.
Maybe the only thing that will be missing from the Bethpage set up will be the now-signature driveable par 4, a Davis staple at Oakmont (No. 17) and Torrey Pines (No. 14).
The 16th (at Bethpage) could have been the only place we could have a driveable par 4, but it just wouldnt have worked, Jones said. As Davis put it, we wont force it.
Davis even hand and penchant for late-round pyrotechnics aside, he counts the 2008 Open as a perfect storm that combined an ailing Woods, affable Rocco Mediate and flawless weather, more so than a layout that was set up for speed as well as comfort, as the primary reason last years championship may go down as one of the most memorable majors.
Perhaps, but then it was Davis push to play the South Courses finishing hole as a reachable par 5, instead of a rigorous par 4, that provided a fitting stage for that all-star cast.
While Bethpages finishing line would never lend itself to closing eagles the way Torrey Pines 18th did, A.W. Tillinghast would have none of that, but that doesnt mean Davis and Jones dont have options.
There will be a lot of excitement at 18 because its a swing hole, Jones predicts. Just take a look at what happened at Augusta National last week.
Prior to the 2002 championship, Jones may have been the first to dub the event the Peoples Open. Listening to Jones and Davis talk about this years tournament, the 2009 edition may go down as the Options Open.
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