The US Women’s Open kicks off on Thursday at Oakmont and the stories dominating headlines this week have focused primarily on the golf course, particularly about it may be the toughest setup in tournament history. It’s cruel. It’s a beast. It’s just really, really hard. And it’s going to kick the ladies’ butts. I’ve been wincing just reading the preview stories (see here, here and here.)
“If Oakmont is firm, it will be by far the hardest test the women have ever seen,” proclaimed Mike Davis, the USGA setup man.
So, will it prove to be toughest US Women’s Open ever? (Not that I doubt Davis’ word for a second.) Let’s turn to LPGA pro Paige Mackenzie, who will take on Oakmont this week, for a field report.
General thoughts on the championship week and course?
My first impression after I played on Monday was that the golf course is a monster. I have played a lot of golf courses in my life but I can’t even think of a course to compare it to. It is a links style course without very many level lies in the fairways and heather/fescue in places. It also has thick rough like you would find at a traditional country club style course. Thankfully, it is not as long as it could be, but that could still be a factor. The fairway bunkering is intense and penalizing, the greens are huge and undulating.
How would you compare the USGA’s setup of Oakmont to a regular LPGA event?
With any US Open course the USGA tests the golf course almost as much as they test the golfers. The USGA likes to push the course by baking out the fairways and greens to the point just before burnout, and making greens fast but on the thin line of fair. LPGA events don’t try to push the course in those ways, thus making it more scoreable.
In Ron Sirak’s preview, he said the caddies bet that the cut line would be at 12-over-par and predictions for the winning score has ranged from 8-over to 14-over. How do you feel about this assessment? Will anyone break par?
I think that Oakmont has the potential to be unscoreable by the women, but so far this week they have watered the greens so that today (Wednesday) they are actually softer than they were on Monday. I think as long as the greens don’t firm out past the USGA’s control than it won’t be be that far over par.
The 17th hole (photo above) has the potential to set up as a driveable par 4. How do you feel about the potential it has to create drama? And since we’re on the subject, talk about both 17th and 18th as finishing holes.
Number 17 is a great finishing hole because it is a risk- reward hole. The reason for hitting driver off the tee is more than just to drive the green, the way the green is angled it is actually a better approach from short left of the green in the rough than a fairway layup. Number 18 is a long up hill par 4. The drive is from an elevated tee which makes you feel a little vulnerable, but assuming you find the fairway between the bunkers than you have an uphill approach with a long iron to a huge hilly green. I will take par any day on that hole.
What’s the rough like?
Rough isn’t bad — compared to Wegmens [the LPGA Championship] two weeks ago — but it is thick and healthy. It is not super long, but does nestle down a little.
How fast are the greens? I’ve heard they’re great beastly.
I asked one of the officials yesterday and he said that they were running 13.4. They are mounded and undulating like most really old courses, but instead of being tiny they are HUGE.
I’ve heard there are bunkers that you have to hit sideways out of. Explain.
The fairway bunkers have large mounds you must hit over as you exit towards the green. In most cases you have to use a more lofted club to advance it at all, or chip out.
What will it take to score well at Oakmont? Or what kind of player does it take to score well at Oakmont?
You must drive the ball well in order to have any chance this week. I also think you need some creativity around the greens and approaching the greens because it is a little links style and fast.
Cristie Kerr is the first American to be ranked the best in the world. What do you think it means for an American to be the number-one player in the world?
I think it is great for the LPGA to have an American #1 in the world. We all like to cheer for the guy/gal that we relate to and I think having an American #1 will help build our American fan base, which is the lifeline of our tour. I think with an increase in popularity so comes an increase in sponsors and it snowballs. You can’t have sponsors of LPGA events if no one watches the LPGA or is excited about our sport. I think it is a great thing, and I think Cristie is doing a great job as our #1. I played a practice round with her at LPGA Championship and today — she is great with the fans here and is a good ambassador for our tour.
How have you been preparing for the US Open?
I played 18 holes on Monday, 9 on tuesday and 9 today. It is super hot and humid so it is about feeling fresh for the tournament just as much as feeling prepared. I spent a lot of time on the greens to get the pace because that is most important to me this week. The golf course is hard enough, so I want to avoid making any mistakes on the green and take advantage of the opportunities that I will have.
How are you feeling about your game?
I have been feeling good recently. I just changed to a new putter last week that is much heavier and actually think that is a great move for this week because its a little easier to judge speed with heavier putters on fast greens.
How does your game match up for Oakmont?
I think that my game matches up really well as long as I am driving the ball like I have the last 3 days. I have a good imagination around the greens which makes this course really fun to play.
Finally, how do you feel about Johnny Miller announcing the tournament? What’s the over/under on how many times he’ll remind us on the time he shot a closing 63 at Oakmont to win the ’73 US Open?
I think there is no one better to announce than Johnny, but you are right, I have a feeling that we all will be reliving his 63 for the next 4 days. (How did he shot 63 on Sunday??? On this course?)
Thanks, Paige! Good luck this week. I’ll be watching…to see which player loses it and bursts into tears first or breaks the most clubs or drops the most F-bombs. Just kidding! But let’s be prepared for a bloodbath unlike any other. Who knows, perhaps someone will pull another Cristie Kerr — maybe even Cristie herself.
[Top photo via Paige's Facebook Fan Page and other photos via USGA.org]