Long Haul at US Womens Open


2004 U.S. WomenSOUTH HADLEY, Mass. -- The only shortcut at this U.S. Women's Open is from the putting green to the clubhouse.
Players got reacquainted with their drivers during their practice rounds, and even the long hitters found they have their work cut out for them.
Orchards Golf Club is 6,473 yards and plays even longer because of the moist grass, gentle bends in the tree-lined fairways and elevated greens that must be carried to certain spots.
Rosie Jones summed up the course in four words.
'Long, long, long,' she said, 'and long.'
The long road to finding a winner of the most prestigious event in women's golf started Thursday, with Annika Sorenstam and Grace Park among the favorites, and Michelle Wie and Paula Creamer among the record 16 teenagers in the 156-player field.
It won't be anything like last year.
The Orchards is the opposite of Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon, where the longest Women's Open course in history at 6,550 yards played as one of the shortest because of crusty, dry conditions.
'At Pumpkin Ridge, I hit three drivers. This is 6,400 yards, and I'm only hitting two or three 3-woods,' two-time Open champ Juli Inkster said. 'There's a big difference in hitting wedges into par 4s. But you've still got to get the ball in the fairway.'
No one will be hitting wedges into the last two par 4s, unless it's their third shot.
No. 16 is 439 yards - unusually long for women's golf - with a bowl-shaped green fronted by a creek. The 18th is among the most demanding with more water cutting diagonally through the 412-yard hole, and the two-tiered green is a steep uphill finish.
'The last three holes, you play those in even par for the week and you'll be in contention,' Karrie Webb said.
The challenging conditions are in contrast to the quiet New England charm of the course. Small winding roads through tiny New England towns that lead to the Orchards, a course built for a woman and owned by female-only Mount Holyoke College.
Joseph Skinner, a textile magnate, wanted a place for his daughter to play and commissioned Donald Ross to build it in 1922.
The clubhouse is an understated, three-story Colonial. The practice green is no bigger than a two-car garage.
Only when they set foot on the course do they get a rude reminder what is at stake. The Women's Open is the toughest test they face all year, and this is no exception.
'It closes down the opportunity for people to win,' Beth Daniel said Wednesday. 'There are very few players who can win this tournament on this golf course.'
That wasn't the case last year at Pumpkin Ridge, where conditions opened up the Open to just about every variety of game, and the winner - Hilary Lunke - emerged from a three-way playoff despite having to use metal woods to reach some of the par 4s.
Because the Orchards is playing long, the advantage goes to big hitters who are trying to capture the $560,000 first-place check from the $3.1 million purse, the richest in women's golf.
'This is the biggest tournament we have, and it would mean a lot,' said Sorenstam, who hasn't won the Open in eight years and wasted a great chance last year by making a bogey-6 on the final hole to finish one shot out of the playoff.
For the second straight year, the Women's Open looks like a day-care center. The 16 teenagers are two more than the previous record set last year at Pumpkin Ridge.
Wie is getting most of the attention because she has become the most celebrated teen in golf, and because the USGA afforded her special treatment by giving her an exemption from qualifying. Even at 14, the prodigy from Hawaii already has a rival in the same age group - Creamer, who finished second on the LPGA Tour two weeks ago.
'I'm playing good golf,' Creamer said. 'It's not my best but, you know, I definitely think I can win this year.'
No one doubts Wie, Creamer and 18-year-old Aree Song have the game to win the biggest tournament. Song, a rookie on the LPGA Tour, came close to winning the first major of the year.
About the only player being written off is Lunke.
Not only was Pumpkin Ridge her biggest victory, it was her only victory. In fact, Lunke has never finished in the top 10 at any other professional tournament.
Add to that the length at Orchards, and it compounds the difficulty. Lunke has yet to reach the par-4 16th and 18th holes in two shots during her practice rounds.
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