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O'Toole outspoken on issues with Women's Open

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PHOENIX – They’re getting a hand-me down.

They’re getting the men’s leftovers.

In a nutshell, that summarizes what the women don’t like about the U.S. Women’s Open being played the week after the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in June, according to fourth-year LPGA pro Ryann O’Toole.

With USGA executive director Mike Davis speaking at an LPGA players meeting at the Founders Cup Tuesday night, O’Toole stepped up as the most outspoken critic of plans to play the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open in back-to-back weeks. She pressed Davis on why the women aren’t scheduled to go first.

“I think what we wanted to hear was more of the truth, and I think what we heard was what we were supposed to hear,” O’Toole said.

What O’Toole heard Davis say is the grasses and greens are easier to set up for a major championship test if the men go first. He also reassured the women that the course will stand up and offer them a quality major championship test.

“I think the biggest thing we will lose is the pristine conditions you get at a major championship,” O’Toole said. “When you go to a U.S. Open, the course is groomed to perfection. It’s the best course we play all year, but now we are going to be playing it the week after the men play it.

“You can’t tell me it’s going to look the same. It is not. We know what a U.S. Open course looks like after we’re done with it. For them to say the course is going to be in great shape, and the greens are the only reason why the men are going first, makes no sense. It’s just something we are going to have to see to believe.

“I’m not alone feeling that way. I would say 90 percent of the tour agrees with what I’m saying.”

Paula Creamer is trying to keep an open mind, hopeful that the exposure playing after the men will prove a boost to women’s golf, but she has her concerns.

“I think it’s awesome we are at the same venue,” Creamer said. “However, at a place like Pinehurst, we could be playing at the same time, on different courses.

“I’m just taking it as it is. There’s nothing I can do. I know a lot of people are upset with it and don’t agree with it.”

Cristie Kerr said Davis met some serious skepticism in his presentation to LPGA pros. 

“I think they believe what they are telling us is true, but we were all just sitting there doing this [shaking our heads],” Kerr said. “They are thinking the course will be in as good a shape the second week as it is the first. Mike Davis said if you think anything differently, you don’t really know agronomy. And we are like, 'Well, we’ve only been playing golf for 30 years.’

“They were here this week, so obviously they are concerned, but it is what it is. We all love the U.S. Open and we’ll just have to make the most of it.”

Juli Inkster hears the trepidation but is urging her fellow players to keep an open mind.

“We just need to see how this will play out,” Inkster said. “There are a lot of if, ands or buts, whatever, but until you get out there and let it play out, you can speculate all you want. My philosophy is it does you no good to say, 'Why aren’t we going first?’ The bottom line is men sell tickets. They’re going to go first. It could be really good for us, but you just got to let it play itself out.”

Morgan Pressel can’t wait to play Pinehurst, but she hears the trepidation from peers all around her. 

“There are people definitely nervous about the week,” Pressel said. “We don’t know what to expect. It’s unprecedented, and it will be interesting.”

Davis says the USGA's agronomy staff's challenges dictated the men go first. 

“It's the superintendent, and it's our Green Section staff who felt that we had a much better chance of getting the golf course right for both championships, how we want to set it up, with the men going first and the women going second,” Davis said earlier this year. “It really gets down to the putting greens, that they're going to be the same green speed for both weeks. But the first week, if Mother Nature is cooperative, they're going to be slightly firmer.”

Davis said it is simply easier to go from very firm greens to slightly less firm than the other way around.

LPGA pros are suspicious there’s more to the men going first than that.

“I think the bottom line is we weren’t going to kick up as much of a fuss as the guys would have playing second,” Katherine Kirk said. “The guys would never have done it. Obviously, that wasn’t said and probably would never be said.”

O’Toole believes that, too.

“The men would never stand for having the women go first, and then playing after us,” O’Toole said. “Ultimately, we think that’s the idea.”

The number of divots the women are likely to have to play through is a major concern, but they see the potential upside with all the attention the women's game is already getting for this U.S. Women's Open.

“The USGA has been awesome to us,” Kirk said. “I think they know what they’re doing, and I think it will be a great event. I think if we can turn it into a positive and ride the coattails of the men, it will be great for us.”

O'Toole is eager to play the U.S. Women's Open, even if it may not be in optimum conditions.

“At the end of the day, we’re still all excited to play Pinehurst No. 2,” O’Toole said. “It’s a great golf course. It’s one of my favorite courses.

“It could be a big plus playing it this way, or it could be a disaster.”