Needles And Pines

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If Oakmont was a full frontal assault on the golfing sensibilities of the players at the U.S. Open two weeks ago, Pine Needles this week is turning out to be death by a thousand cuts.
 
Weather delays, searing heat, trying course conditions and the built-in pressure of playing for womens golfs most important prize on its biggest stage has turned into a golfing war of attrition.
 
The weekend has arrived and relentless afternoon electricity in the local ether has prevented the championship from reaching its halfway mark. Almost everybody is on edge.
 
Annika Sorenstam, the defending champion, needed 42 strokes to complete the first nine holes of her second round. Karrie Webb, the No. 2 ranked female player in the world, had a 42 on the back nine Thursday. Suzann Pettersen, who won the McDonalds LPGA earlier this month, has carded a 43. So has Hall of Famer Juli Inkster.
 
Italys Silvia Cavalleri withdrew due to heat exhaustion Friday after nine holes that totaled 44. Michelle Wie sounded like the heat had gotten to her after an 11-over Thursday round, that included a back nine 44, when she said, Theres a fine line between 82 and 69.
 
Ji-Yai Shin from Korea said this: Im very, very nervous. Very nervous.
 
If Oakmont was Roger Clemens power pitching in his prime, Pine Needles is Greg Maddux painting the black part of the plate in his mid-30s. Lots of players trudging back to the dugout with their bats on their shoulders.
 
Fridays early leader in the clubhouse was Koreas In-Bee Park who has a cartoon bumblebee on her golf bag and says her first name in Korean means Queen of Virtue.
 
She followed an opening 69 with a Friday 73 and hasnt been stung yet by Pine Needles. Her close friend, Angela Park, another Korean teenager, was the first round leader and still in front when In-Bee Park finished her Friday round. Which meant, at least temporarily, the U.S. Womens Open was double-Parked.
 
Dodging lightning, managing emotions, conserving energy, maintaining focus and marshalling patience have all been part of the test so far. Not to mention the nutritional challenge of deciding when to nosh and when to abstain when you dont know if the officials are going to call you back on the golf course again.
 
I just eat when Im hungry, said In-Bee Park, who will turn 19 in July. Easy for her to say.
 
Its the U.S. Open, said Kelli Kuehne, older and wiser. Things never go as you think they will.
 
Just stay patient, said In-Bee Park. Also easy for the Queen of Virtue to say.
 
Kicked my bag, got mad, almost broke my toe, Kuehne said at one point. I dont think Ill be kicking my bag any more.
 
Alexis Thompson, the youngest player in the history of this event'she doesnt turn 13 until next February'plays like an adult but sounds like a pre-teen. When somebody asked her who won the ping-pong match between her and Vicky Hurst during one of the weather delays, she said she thought Hurst might have let her win.
 
But, Thompson quickly added, dont make that sound like Im a brat.
 
When the players got to Pine Needles Friday they found a set of greens that were rolling about 12 on the Stimpmeter. That was about three inches faster than Rd. 1s greens, which had been slowed by late Wednesday rains. Turns out the grounds staff had been mowing until 10:30 Thursday night. They resumed at 4:45 Friday morning.
 
If we dont get a few gripes during a championship, said Mike Davis, the USGAs estimable course set-up guy, were not quite sure we set the championship up right.
 
To their collective credit, the women havent been complaining this week so much as theyve been busy playing defense on the course and watching the Weather Channel in the locker room.
 
Davis is the architect of the conditions at the USGAs marquee events. Donald Ross was the original architect of Pine Needles. John Fought, a former U.S. Amateur champion, was the architect of a restoration at Pine Needles that significantly changed what the women faced here at the 2001 Open and what greeted them when they arrived on Monday.
 
What had played at approximately 6,250 yards to a par of 70 when Webb won here six years ago is now 6,644 on the card to a par of 71. Instead of rye grass roughs the players found Bermuda grass.
 
Bermuda rough, as we all know, is a more penal rough, Davis said, because the ball falls to the bottom; versus overseeded rye, the ball sits up a bit.
 
In theory, Davis said, this is supposed to be the hardest test the women will face all year every year. The goal is to take the worlds best players and test them as much as we can without having it be unfair test where well-executed shots arent rewarded.
 
So the course is sneaky-hard. The weather is more unpredictable than the last episode of The Sopranos. And the eventual outcome'both the who and the when'right now is anybodys best guess.
 
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