Next at Pinehurst: The ladies get ready to Open
No one might be under more pressure at Pinehurst No. 2 than Mike Davis.
And he’s not even playing.
Davis is the executive director of the USGA and the person responsible for setting up the course for golf’s ultimate doubleheader — the US Open one week, followed immediately by the US Women’s Open. For two weeks in North Carolina, golf becomes like tennis.
Except no one ever tried to slow the grass courts at Wimbledon.
His task is to make Pinehurst No. 2 play the same for men and women, respective of their strength and skill. It’s one thing to move the tees forward by some 900 yards for the women. The fairways are at the same width. The plan is for the greens to be the same speed. The difficulty is making the greens soft enough so that a golf ball struck with the same club responds the same way.
To his credit, Davis already has conceded that the odds of getting it right are about the same as Tiger Woods winning the Grand Slam this year.
And that’s where perception becomes a big part of the equation.
Some of the men privately grumbled last week during the practice rounds — when Pinehurst No. 2 was firm, crusty and brutal — that the USGA surely would pour water on the greens after the US Open and the women would wind up with the lower scores.
This was before Martin Kaymer turned in an exquisite performance and posted the second-lowest score in US Open history at 9-under 271.
And that’s what makes Karrie Webb worried.
"I’m thinking the other way," Webb, a two-time Open champion, said Tuesday morning on the range. "I’m thinking the USGA didn’t get the score they wanted to win for the men, so they’ll get it from us. But Kaymer just played really well this year."
Make the golf course too hard, and Davis might get accused of trying to embarrass them. Make it too easy, and the women might not get the respect they deserve.
Is it worth it?
The party line from the USGA is that playing this doubleheader is a wonderful chance to showcase the women’s game.
"It’s like hockey," said Meg Mallon, a two-time Women’s Open champion and Detroit Red Wings fan. "You have to see it in person to appreciate how good it is."
Money most likely was at the bottom of this. Staging two championships on the same course two weeks apart saves operational expenses, for sure. And taking the women to Pinehurst only happened after Pebble Beach changed direction in its plans to host them for the first time.
Either way, Davis was partly curious to see how the women would compare.
The men and women have played the same courses — such as Baltusrol, Cherry Hills, and most recently Oakmont — but never in the same year. Angel Cabrera won at Oakmont, reputed to be the toughest of U.S. Open courses, at 3-over 285. Paula Creamer won at Oakmont three years later at 3-under 281.
Davis said it was set up the same with green speeds, fairway widths and relative distance. He didn’t have many believers because of the three-year window.
"So I think given the fact that these are back-to-back, it’s going to showcase just how good the females can play the game," he said.
Before a shot is struck — whether it’s from 53-year-old Juli Inkster or 11-year-old Lucy Li — this US Women’s Open feels more like Judgment Day than a major.
"I think they’re definitely going to try and compare us," Michelle Wie said. "It will be like, `Oh, they played it this way, I want to see how they play it.’ But I think it really puts us in the spotlight, which I think is great for our tour. We’re making history this week. I think it’s a great opportunity for us to show everyone how great we are because we can directly compare ourselves with the men. Hopefully, it opens a door for many future events like this."
The trouble is women have always gotten the short stick in comparisons.
Alison Nicholas won at 10-under par at Pumpkin Ridge in 1997 and the course was too easy. Se Ri Pak won in a playoff at Blackwolf Run at 6-over par a year later and the women just weren’t very good. Roger Maltbie could have weighed in — it wasn’t a fair fight.
At least more people will be paying attention. That’s never a bad thing.