OAKMONT, Pa. – Normally, the USGA hides the water hoses located near all greens during any U.S. Open to keep them firm, fast and, to some golfers, fiercely unfair.
The 90-degree heat that’s enveloped Oakmont Country Club this week, and is forecast to continue through Thursday during the U.S. Women’s Open, means water is necessary to prevent the delicate greens from going brown.
Mike Davis of the USGA said firmness readings are being taken three times a day on nine quadrants on every green. When water is needed, it’s being applied. Even if American golf’s governing body believes the greens are perfect as they are.
“If we see balls starting to hit those greens (on Thursday), well-struck balls, and literally bouncing in the front third and bouncing the whole way over, we’d say, ‘Wait a minute,’ ” Davis said Wednesday. “We need more water on those greens. We’re happy with the way the course is playing and if the scores are higher or lower than we thought, we’re not going to change things.”
Currently, the greens are running in the high 13s and low 14s on the speed-gauging Stimpmeter, or slightly lower than the high 14s and low 15s of the men’s 2007 U.S. Open. Depending on pin placement, some greens slope away from the golfer, which has caused some practice-round putts to skitter off the greens entirely.
“The greens are very difficult, the undulation as well as the speed,” former world No. 1-ranked Ai Miyazato said. “Those two combinations I’ve never really experienced before. … My imagination and putting here really didn’t match. They broke way more than I imagined.”
MIYAZATO’S MOMENTUM: Until Cristie Kerr’s commanding 12-shot victory in the LPGA Championship, no women’s golfer had been better this year than four-time winner Miyazato. She leads the LPGA money winners and was atop the world golf rankings until being overtaken by Kerr.
Miyazato tied for third in the LPGA Championship, finishing up with a 66. She won the ShopRite Classic the week before the LPGA Championship.
Miyazato’s biggest challenge is focusing on making par on many holes, rather than thinking birdie as she does in most tournaments.
“I think I need to change my mind,” she said. “I’m not going to make birdies like every hole. It’s just trying to make par – or maybe bogey.”
CREAMER’S DISCOMFORT: Paula Creamer, a 10-time LPGA Tour winner at age 23 who finished sixth in the past two U.S. Women’s Opens, is experiencing a challenging year. She recently underwent surgery to repair a torn thumb ligament, an injury that commonly requires months of healing.
To compensate, Creamer is hitting many of her practice range shots off tees to avoid the discomfort that occurs when her clubs strike the ground. It’s a difficult way to prepare for the toughest tournament in women’s golf.
“The hard part is when you play, you can’t practice as much,” she said. “When I practice, I can’t play as much. So I have to give a little, take a little back. It’s been very difficult, very frustrating. When you feel good but you can’t do what you do, it’s tough.”
Creamer has played in four events this year, making the Top 10 in two with one seventh-place finish.
SWINGING FOR CHANGE: Eun-Hee Ji of South Korea overtook Kerr to win last year’s U.S. Women’s Open at Saucon Valley, then set out later in the year to configure her swing and her game. The idea was to get more distance and better control of her shots, but the results have been disappointing.
Ji hasn’t finished higher than 17th in her 10 tournaments this year, and she placed 51st or worst three times.
“I changed my swing a lot,” she said. “The first couple of tournaments I play really bad, but I’m getting better right now. This tournament (after) last year, I have more confidence I can play really good.”
Ji was among those affected by the heat, which forced her to shave considerable time off each day’s preparation to make sure she didn’t become too fatigued.
WIE’S BUNKER MENTALITY: Michelle Wie is getting her first look at Oakmont’s famed Church Pew bunkers, the course’s signature and most sinister feature. The 102-yard-long bunker between the No. 3 and 4 fairways is 42 yards across and, depending on the lie, can take multiple shots to exit for the unlucky golfer who finds herself knee-deep in them.
The church pews got their names from the grass strips that run across the bunker.
“Whoever thought of – the designer who thought of putting them in – it’s a pretty smart idea,” Wie said. “It’s pretty intimidating when you’re looking at it and you see the lines and it’s not just a couple of bunkers, it’s all one big bunker. It brings a unique characteristic to the course and, hopefully, I could just look at them and not be in them all week.”
That’s Wie’s advice to any golfer who takes on Oakmont: stay out of the 210 bunkers.
“It definitely has a British Open feel to it where you don’t want to be in the bunkers,” she said.