The U.S. Golf Association often is the target of criticism in this space. Too often, its supporters contend.
So in the spirit of giving credit when credit is due, let’s hear it for the USGA and the outstanding job it did presenting the 59th U.S. Women’s Open.
Early in the week, USGA executive director David Fay acknowledged shortcomings in the setup of the U.S. Open last month at Shinnecock Hills. In the days that followed, the USGA demonstrated it had learned from its mistakes.
The Orchards Golf Club in South Hadley, Mass., is a classic 1920s Donald Ross design known for its treacherous greens. The USGA could have tested the field with some diabolical hole locations, as it did at Shinnecock, but resisted the temptation.
It was the correct decision. As it was, the contestants had their hands full with the 6,473-yard layout, the third-longest in Women’s Open history. (In reality, it likely played as the longest, given the spongy condition of the rain-soaked turf.)
In the end, the winner was veteran Meg Mallon with a 10-under-par score of 274. Double-digit red numbers, yet the sky didn’t fall.
Instead, the record-breaking crowd was treated to a terrific show. Much of the attention was focused on 14-year-old Michelle Wie, who tied for 13th and if not for a couple of disaster holes might well have challenged for the title.
(The argument can be made that Wie’s performance vindicated the USGA Women’s Committee’s controversial decision to give her an exemption into the Open. We contend it strengthens our position that if Wie is that good, she just as easily could have gone through the qualifying process and earned her spot, as is required of any other amateur. For the time being – and much to Fay’s relief – the issue is moot, since Wie’s top-20 finish gained her a spot in the 2005 field at Cherry Hills in Colorado.)
Other young guns wowed the galleries as well, underscoring the exciting future of women’s golf. Recent high school grad Brittany Lincicome was the giggly first-round leader after an opening 66, tied for the lowest Women’s Open round ever by an amateur. No matter that she succumbed to the pressure and followed with rounds of 77-76-78; Lincicome served further notice of the talent that’s coming up through the junior and college ranks.
Paula Creamer, Golfweek’s top-ranked junior, tied Wie for low amateur honors. She accomplished that with a birdie at the 72nd hole and fueled a rivalry that figures to last for years.
And the ebullient Jennifer Rosales, at the ripe old age of 25, continued to make waves, holding the second- and third-round leads before falling back with a Sunday 75 and into fourth place behind Mallon, Annika Sorenstam and Kelly Robbins.
Ah, Sorenstam. It took Mallon’s 24-putt closing 65 to fend off the queen of women’s golf, who now has 11 top-5 finishes in her last 15 majors.
Indeed, the 59th U.S. Women’s Open got it right. Better yet, the momentum of women’s golf is undeniable.