Open Anticipation

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OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. -- Temperatures in the 50s and light, early-morning showers greeted players Wednesday at Olympia Fields, site of this weeks 103rd U.S. Open. Its the second consecutive day that the course has received rain.
 
The weather really affects what we can do, said Olympia Fields golf course superintendent Dave Ward. Were working with Mother Nature and were working with the creation of man.
 
Officials said they are still trying to get the greens at a consistently fast ' but fair ' speed.
 
Wed like to see the greens a little firmer, but with the lack of sunshine and the little bit of rain weve had thats been difficult, said United States Golf Association vice-president Fred Ridley. But with the wind and a couple of days of sunshine, I think youll see the greens a little bit testier than they have been in the past few days.
 
Ridley added that the rough was mowed Tuesday night and will probably be allowed to grow the remainder of the week. Right now it is almost four inches in its most severe spots.
 
My observation is that this is not a pitch-out type of rough, he said. There are times when the ball gets down in the grass and its pretty hard to do anything with it. But Ive seen three or four different variations of lies being out on the golf course the last couple of days, and thats really the desired result as far as were concerned.
 
PERRY THRUST INTO THE SPOTLIGHT
 
In the revolving door that leads to Golfs Hottest Player, Kenny Perry may be on his way out, or en route to another visit.
 
Perry won the Bank of America Colonial and the Memorial Tournament in consecutive events before taking last week off.
 
I was pretty swamped by interviews, people calling me. I really hadnt had a chance to catch my breath, Perry said of his week away from golf. I told my caddie I had to come back to work to even get a good nights sleep.
 
Perrys pair of victories were the fifth and sixth of his career. Prior to that, he had won only once since 1995. This is the closest the 42-year-old has come to professional fame since he lost in a playoff to Mark Brooks in the 1996 PGA Championship.
 
The Franklin, Ky., native ' where they will soon be holding Kenny Perry Day ' still wonders what life would have been like had he been the victor at Valhalla.
 
I dont know if I would have handled it as well back then. I was a lot younger. I dont know how I would have carried myself after that win, he said, adding he had no regrets. But Ive thoroughly been very happy with my career and how its gone and how Ive played.
 
I just opened a few eyes those last couple of weeks, and thats been the big difference I guess.
 
Perry said he wasnt able to practice much last week, and that his game is a little off-center as the first round nears. But hes not about to fret, rather hes focused on the positives.
 
I just took the attitude that Im going to enjoy this, he said. Ive kind of flown under the radar for 17 years. Ive had a good career, nothing fantastic, and then I win two tournaments back-to-back, and its like the whole world changed.
 
Ive enjoyed it immensely, and Im looking forward to this week. Its quite a challenge for me.
 
LOVE MOVING FORWARD
 
Davis Love III has quite a challenge as well this week. He, too, has to try and put off-course distractions aside in order to contend for his first U.S. Open title.
 
But, unlike Perrys, Loves peripheral life is clouded with sadness.
 
Love is competing in his second event since he discovered the body of his brother-in-law, Jeffrey Knight, who had committed suicide, on May 16. He played in last weeks FBR Capital Open and tied for seventh.
 
Its a welcome challenge for me to get out and play a golf tournament that keeps me distracted for a while, he said. It was good for me to play last week, and obviously I wanted to get ready for this week. If the U.S. Open doesnt get you concentrating, nothings going to.
 
Knight was married to the sister of Loves wife, Robin. He handled a variety of business affairs for Love but was not involved in his golf course design company. Knight killed himself days after admitting to both Love and the FBI that he had stolen in the neighborhood of $1 million from the worlds No. 3-ranked player.
 
Most of Love's family are currently on vacation in Florida.
 
They know that my place is to be, one, out here at work, and two, out here with my friends, said Love, whose father, teaching professional Davis Jr., was killed in a plane crash in 1988.
 
Weve been reminded twice tragically in our family how important it is to stay close and take care of each other, he said.
 
It shows you that your career and your life of earning money or the business of life is not the most important thing, that family is the most important thing.
 
Love, who won the 1997 PGA Championship at Winged Foot, is seeking his first U.S. Open title. He tied for second in 1996, missing a putt inside of two feet that would, as it turned out, have forced a playoff with winner Steve Jones.
 
Nothing is going to stop me from trying to do my best. Last week, people came up and said, I cant believe you played so well. I said, I cant believe I bogeyed three holes in the last round.'
 
So thats my attitude, is Ill play golf, and maybe when I go home next week it wont be as much fun as a normal week off, but Ill still keep playing golf as hard as I can.
 
NOT-SO-WEIRD QUESTION
 
When Tiger Woods wins the Masters, people start buying tickets for the PGA Championship in anticipation of the Grand Slam.
 
When Mike Weir wins the Masters, people, almost as an obligation, ask him if its possible to complete the single-season Slam.
 
A slap in the face? Not to Weir.
 
Its not an insult at all. Hes the guy that has won four majors in a row, so its a legitimate question. For me, its my first major championship, but at the same time, Ive said this before, if I didnt feel like I could do it, Id never do it, Weir said.
 
Things have to fall all into place, and the stars have to line up. But well see what happens this week, and well go from there.
 
But you never rule anything out.
 
A LOOK INSIDE THE BARNES DOOR
 
In 1995, Ernie Els was the reigning U.S. Open champion. As is USGA tradition, he was grouped with the most recent British Open and U.S. Amateur winners, Nick Price and a 19-year-old Tiger Woods, respectively.
 
At the time, Els thought to himself, If this guy ever learns to hit the ball straight, were all in trouble. And well he was right.
 
Now, he gets another look at a promising young ball basher, Ricky Barnes.
 
Barnes, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, is grouped with Els, the British Open winner, and Woods, last years U.S. Open champ, over the first two rounds at Olympia Fields.
 
Ive played so many times with Tiger now, I know what he does, Els said. But Ricky, I mean, Id like to see how he plays. There was quite a bit of hype about him at the Masters, he played so well. Hes a big, strong guy, and Id like to see how he rips it past us Thursday.
 
Woods has already had a first-hand experience with the University of Arizona senior. The pair played together in the first two rounds of this years Masters Tournament, where Barnes bettered Woods by six strokes over the two days.
 
Barnes eventually finished as low amateur, tying for 21st place. Woods, incidentally, tied for 15th, one shot lower.
 
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