BETHESDA, Md. – The year’s first major dose of stifling weather came and went last week in suburban Washington, D.C., but it’s still having an effect on the U.S. Open.
Temperatures that flirted with 100 degrees stunted the growth of the grass at Congressional Country Club. Crews had to cut back on the number of mowings and rollings. The heat, combined with a long dry spell, got officials behind as they prepared the Blue Course.
“Last week was brutal,” said Mike Davis, executive director of the USGA, who is in charge of setting up the course. “We had not only humidity, but the temperatures were way up. We had to come into this Open not exactly where we want to be.”
The USGA likes to have the course in its ideal U.S. Open setup when players arrive Monday for the first practice rounds. Instead, the rough wasn’t quite as high as hoped, and the greens weren’t playing at the targeted speed.
The revised goal is to have the course ready by Thursday’s first round.
“We are delighted where this golf course is right now,” said Tom O’Toole, chairman of the USGA’s championship committee, “and we think it’s well prepared to test the greatest players in the world.”
The good news for golfers and fans is that temperatures aren’t expected to return to the 90s during the tournament. The bad news: Scattered thunderstorms are a possibility every day.
SCRAMBLING OVER FRIED EGGS: Fried eggs are on the menu at the U.S. Open.
The Blue Course at Congressional has a different type of sand than the norm, and that could lead to some unsavory lies – the ones that are half-buried in the bunker.
“I suspect we’re going to get some fried eggs this week, I really do,” said Mike Davis, executive director of the USGA. “Having said that, we don’t want a plethora of them, and that’s one of the things we’ll be looking at very carefully.
“We get in these bunkers and we test them,” Davis said. “There’s even firmness measurements that we can take. It’s not a perfect science, and some of the bunkers if we do the same thing to every bunker, some of them that are south facing that get more sun, they dry out and get puffier a little faster than some of the other ones.”
Davis said the USGA is determined to make the bunkers genuine hazards.
“That’s the nature of golf,” he said. “In my opinion it’s like hitting it down the middle of the fairway, you hope you’re going to get a good lie, you’ll probably get a good lie, but it may end up in a divot. It’s the same with a bunker. If you hit a high powering shot in the bunker and it’s coming down almost vertically, there’s a good chance this week you’re going to get a fried egg, or at least it’s going to be a little cuppy.”
HOT TICKET: The U.S. Open keeps drawing a crowd.
The USGA said Wednesday that the tournament is sold out for the 25th straight year. Some 35,000 fans are expected each day of the championship.
Such a popular event presents special challenges in the area around traffic-congested Washington, D.C. The USGA secured about 15,000 satellite parking spaces, and they’re running 475 buses each day. They only needed 275 last year at Pebble Beach.
USGA President Jim Hyler said was asked if the logistics might affect Congressional’s chances of hosting the event again.
“Who knows about the future?” Hyler said. “We’re just trying to get through this week and have a successful U.S. Open this week.”
LEAVE THE CELLPHONE AT HOME: U.S. Open crowds might be only remaining mass gatherings of people in America in which no one has a cellphone.
While the PGA Tour has started allowing cellphones at tournaments, the USGA isn’t ready to follow suit at its big events.
“We put competition first and foremost,” said Mike Davis, executive director of the USGA. “We’re focused on fans, but if we were totally focused on fans you’d have the rope lines closer to play. We’re more focused on the competition itself. And until we as an organization are convinced that we can conduct a U.S. Open, a Women’s Open, U.S. Amateur, Girls’ Junior, with spectators using cell phones, we’re going to continue to prohibit them.”