Players cautious, expecting big bite at U.S. Open

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SAN MARTIN, Calif. – There’s some mystery over what CordeValle Golf Club will present as home to this week’s U.S. Women’s Open.

“I’m quietly cautious that it won’t have more teeth than we’re seeing right now,” Hall of Famer Karrie Webb said. “A course like this can change overnight.”

The big question on players’ mind is how firm and fast the USGA will get this course once the championship begins. That could change everything.

Webb said after a practice round Tuesday that she expected the course to be getting firmer and faster than it was getting, but that the USGA actually softened it during the day with water. She noticed watering being done in the morning.

“We are all trying to work out what the trick will be here,” Webb said. “We’ll see.”

Julieta Granada said the softening of the course in practice rounds with water makes her wonder if she’s seeing the real course.

“It’s almost like they’re trying to hide what we’re going to see,” Granada said.

Ben Kimball, the USGA’s championship director, said the extra watering isn’t some surreptitious plan to throw the women off their games. He said it’s being done to protect turf health, and that the course will get drier as the week progresses.

“Moisture levels in the fine turf areas have been maintained fairly high in the interest of turf health,” Kimball said. “With cool, dry conditions in the forecast for the week, we are in the process of drying the golf course down to achieve our desired firmness . . . The course will get firmer every day.”

CordeValle is a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design that will play as a par 72 measuring 6,784 yards on the scorecard, but Kimball said he doubted it would play that long any day of the championship. The fifth hole is listed as a 352-yard par 4, but Kimball said players should expect tees to be moved up to make it a drivable par 4 at anywhere from 235 to 240 yards.

“There’s the likelihood of a lot of birdies, the likelihood of some eagles and the likelihood of a hole-in-one on a par 4 out there,” Kimball said. “So exciting stuff there.”

With firm and fast conditions, the course may not play as long as it appears.

“I wouldn’t say it’s your typical U.S. Women’s Open style golf course,” Webb said. “The fairways are quite generous. The rough isn’t all that long, so even if you miss a fairway, it’s playable, though there are some spots that it’s not.”

Even with more generous fairway widths, Webb said it’s not necessarily a long hitter’s course.

“I think it’s a course for anybody,” Webb said. “The big hitters will probably be licking their chops, because there is not a lot of penalty for them, but I think people who don’t hit it that far and are good putters will do just as well.”

Like Webb, Stacy Lewis said the test is unique.

“The course is interesting,” Lewis said. “It's very different than your typical U.S. Open. Of the past few venues we've played, it’s probably closest to Sebonack. You have to rely on some good bounces. You can putt from a lot of places. It’s not drive it straight, and if you hit it in the rough, you hack it out with your wedge, and you putt it good. You have to do everything well. You can't just drive it well and putt it good. You've got to be able to hit some shots and get some good bounces along the way.”

Kimball said part of the test will be judging what firm and fast conditions will do to balls bouncing along the ground. It will also be in how players deal mentally with the different lies they will get in “spotty” rough.

“It’s very inconsistent [rough], which is a good thing for this week,” Kimball said. “Depending upon where the player hits it, they may be in four inches of rough, they may be in an inch and a half of rough. The heat has impacted the rough a little bit. And the higher rough that you see out there is now starting to get little bit drier, getting a little weaker as we dial back some of the watering that we're doing. So it's very inconsistent throughout the property. It's rough. It's supposed to be inconsistent.

“We intend this to be a comprehensive test of golf. Not necessarily the hardest test, but a total examination of the players' ability and their mental stability, as well. It's our intention to get every club in the bag dirty on a daily basis. Firm and fast requires players to have to contemplate what the ball does when it hits the ground.”