PINEHURST, N.C. - The merging of the game’s best men and women on Sunday at Pinehurst No. 2 couldn’t help but feel surreal and brilliant, yet overdue – the type of natural morphing that you couldn’t help but wonder how has this not happened sooner?
There on the driving range Sunday was Lydia Ko hugging Sergio Garcia, chatting away like long lost pals in their first time meeting each other while Natalie Gulbis fired range balls next to Keegan Bradley and Steve Stricker. Just off in the distance, Jessica Korda putted on the putting green with Rickie Fowler an hour before Fowler was set to tee off in his first final group at a major championship. It looked more as if this was just a casual weekday home game back home in Florida.
Then, there at the end the day as the U.S. Open Championship closed with Martin Kaymer knocking in a 10-foot putt to complete a dominant 8-shot victory, Sandra Gal rushed out to congratulate her fellow German in the exact spot she hopes to duplicate his feat next Sunday.
Needless to say, any initial hesitations of changes to a championship the players cherish have evaporated. Raves have become the only noise emanating so far as part two of the start of the USGA’s same stage experiment gets kicked off this week with the U.S. Women’s Open Championship.
Playing two major championships back-to-back at the same venue came with reservations from some, wondering how the course would fare after a week of the men, but players found the course to be exactly as they hoped Monday when Pinehurst No. 2 was opened to the ladies for practice rounds.
“I thought it was a great, great track,” said Danielle Kang after her morning practice round. “I walked the men’s U.S. Open and I thought the course was going to be in a little bit of rough condition after them, but I played today and the course condition was actually really great. The fairways were in great shape, the greens were rolling awesome, and the course is going to be a great test for every player out here.”
In other words, so far so good. Same goes for Sunday’s final round of the U.S. Open, where the ladies were able to enter the practice facility at noon and join the men in preparation.
“I think it was very hard to pull it off and I think [the USGA] did it magnificently. It was great,” Belen Mozo said. “I loved coming here on a Sunday and having the guys play and watching them and interact with them. It was really cool.”
More than just the interaction, the setup allowed the women to take a step back and get an advanced look at the course in live competition before taking it on themselves, like a study guide for an upcoming exam. Mozo, for example, followed around the final group of Fowler and Kaymer and noticed immediately how distinctly different the two played the golf course and how they navigated the turtleback greens that No. 2 is synonymous with.
“I think they were always on different sides of the fairway. Martin plays more like I want to play – short fades and putting around the greens. Rickie was more high draws and chipping around and being creative,” Mozo said. “It’s just two ways of playing this course.”
There’s the other added benefits like being able to pick the men’s brains – and even take their yardage books. Kang’s friends with Paulina Gretzky, Dustin Johnson’s fiancée, and had dinner with Johnson Saturday night to get a play-by-play of the course. She then received his yardage book after his round Sunday in which his caddy had written notes as detailed as which side of the fairway it was better to miss it on based on the prevalence of the fescue in the sandy soil.
Lexi Thompson took advantage, too, using her caddy Benji Thompson’s connections as a former Web.com and PGA Tour caddie to gain insight into the course from his past employer. Casey Wittenberg, who competed last week but missed the cut by one shot, told Benji that he had played too conservatively, laying back off the tee for fear of hitting it into the native areas, and wanted to make sure Lexi didn’t do the same. As one of the longest hitters on Tour, Lexi loved the advice he passed along.
“Hit driver, hit it as close as you can,” Lexi said of Wittenberg’s advice. “The fescue isn’t too bad, you can get a shot out of it even if you have to pitch out. So get it as close as you can and get the short shots into the greens with the undulations in these greens.”
That kind of information’s invaluable and is tough to garner until a player’s been through it. Luckily for the ladies, their friends now have, but they’re excited that it’s now their turn.
“It was weird walking like inside the ropes but like not in the fairway and not playing,” Brittany Lincicome said. “Definitely being a player inside the ropes is more fun than spectating. I was like ‘Man, I know what my mom and dad feel like now when they come watch me and how nervous they are.’”
Topics: US Women's Open