LPGA player Natalie Gulbis talks on the practice ground during the final round of the 2014 U.S. Open golf tournament at Pinehurst Resort Country Club - No. 2 Course. (USA TODAY Sports: Kyle Terada)
PINEHURST, N.C. — For all the eyebrow-raising about playing major golf championships on the same course on back-to-back weeks, the LPGA is unanimously embracing the opportunity to participate in the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2 days after the men’s championship left town.
Many of the golfers preparing to tackle this challenging design witnessed first-hand the intrigue of the U.S. Open, which featured Sunday’s victory by Martin Kaymer, and can’t wait to take their turn in competition on Pinehurst No. 2.
“I’m getting chills right now thinking about it,” Michelle Wie said. “This is a pretty amazing thing. We’re definitely making history this year.”
What the women do across this course on the same layout that challenged men’s pros is part of the compelling aspect of this doubleheader setup by the U.S. Golf Association. In many ways, this is a chance for women’s golf to grab the spotlight.
“If you really cut the chase, this is a celebration of women’s golf,” said USGA president Tom O’Toole. “There’s few places that would let us do that. That’s the very fiber of what this is about.”
For the women, the course is expected to play at about 6,649 yards at par-70. That’s 900 yards shorter than the Pinehurst No. 2 that humbled the majority of the PGA Tour last week.
Ben Kimball, director of the U.S. Women’s Open, said the idea is to have the women hitting the same clubs into greens as the men. That means moving the tee boxes forward, as is customary on elite, championship-level golf courses.
“We want it to be the same test from Week 1 to Week 2,” Kimball said.
The USGA fielded concerns for several months from the women, making sure they’ve done everything within reason to accommodate the field leading up to the tournament so their experience is rewarding, Kimball said.
“Personally, I think this is the coolest thing ever,” said Vicki Goetze-Ackerman, president of the LPGA player directors.
Golfers such as Lexi Thompson have relished the situation so far. She was on hand for the end of the men’s tournament to see Kaymer cruise to the finish.
“I came out on the final day on Sunday and watched the final group for about five holes, just to get a feel of the golf course, see the different shots that they hit into the greens of if they miss, if they putted it or hit little bump and runs,” Thompson said.
Mike Davis, executive director for the USGA, said the landing areas should be mostly in different spots from a week ago.
“Divots, hopefully they won’t be part of the story,” Davis said.
Davis said there’s no reason that the women won’t be successful navigating Pinehurst No. 2.
“It goes to showcase just how good the women play the game,” he said. “We want to see how it goes. We went into it knowing there are risks … but there is so much more upside.”
The women were taking notes, and then borrowing some. Wie said she obtained yardage books from Rickie Fowler and Keegan Bradley after their rounds Sunday.
“I laid all the yardage books down and I kind of compared notes,” Wie said. “I think definitely knowledge is key around here. … This is pretty fresh information and it’s pretty similar conditions to what we’ll play it.”
A difference from last week is bound to be the heat. Forecasts call for temperatures in mid- to high-90s during the women’s tournament, and the sweltering humidity is likely to stick around.
—Lucy Li of Redwood Shores, Calif., will be the youngest participant in tournament history. She eclipsed Thompson for that distinction. Thompson played that 2007 tournament as a 12-year-old at nearby Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines.
“I would say just have fun this week,” Thompson said of advice for Li. “Take it as a learning experience. If this is what she wants to do for her life, she will learn off the other players. … She’s 11 years old. She needs to kind of grow like I needed to grow.”
—Reg Jones, the senior director of the U.S. Open championships for the USGA, said gallery turnouts are expected to be 20,000 to 25,000 for the peak rounds for the women’s tournament — or about half of the total gallery turnout on those same days of the men’s tournament.
—World No. 1 Stacy Lewis has just one top-10 finish in the U.S. Women’s Open (2008), and that came in her first event as a tour professional. She said the course is a thinking golfer’s layout.
“I love the golf course, I love the way you have to think your way around,” Lewis said. “You really have to — it’s position golf, it’s where do I need to be for every hole location and that suits my game? That’s the way I play every week. So I think I have that as an advantage.”