OAKMONT, Pa. – Cristie Kerr learned the hard way that Oakmont Country Club severely punishes any mis-hit.
After hitting her tee shot into a fairway bunker on the 14th hole, Kerr tried three times to hit a 50-degree wedge. Three times, she failed.
Luckily for Kerr, this scene took place during Monday’s practice round. It provided a valuable lesson for her attempt this week at a second U.S. Women’s Open title.
“Three times I tried to get it out of the bunker, and I was not hitting it that thin,” she said. “I said, ‘You know what? Being a hero is not going to win this U.S. Open.’ ”
Kerr, the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open champion, has won two of her past three starts, including a 12-shot victory at the LPGA Championship. Kerr is the last American to win the U.S. Women’s Open.
As the No. 1 player in the Rolex Rankings, she leads a group of six Americans among the top 25: Michelle Wie (10), Angela Stanford (11), Paula Creamer (13), Morgan Pressel (16) and Brittany Lincicome (21).
Whoever wins this week will have overcome one of the toughest tests in Open history. Angel Cabrera shot 5 over par to win the ’07 U.S. Open at Oakmont. Early estimates are that this week’s winning score will be around the same number, possibly higher.
“Yesterday, we were like, ‘Wow, these greens are firm, and they’re only going to get firmer,’ ” said Wie, who has just three top-10s in 10 starts this year. She finished 52nd, 46th and 19th in her past three starts.
The difficulty of Oakmont’s sloping greens was on display this morning when Stanford’s Sally Watson, who represented Great Britain & Ireland in this year’s Curtis Cup, got to the second hole. Watson’s first practice putt from 30 feet above the hole rolled off the green. She was much more delicate with her second attempt, but it still rolled 10 feet past.
The sloping greens and thick rough usually are the focus when discussing Oakmont’s difficulty. The fairway bunkers can’t be overlooked. “A lot of the bunkers, if you’re in them, you’re going sideways,” Wie said. “You’re not going forward.”
The bunkers are one reason why Kerr took the 4-iron out of her bag and replaced it with a gap wedge. She wants to improve her chances of getting up-and-down after the inevitable layup out of a fairway bunker or the rough.
“You’re going to see some good bogeys out there where you’ll hit it in a bunker and you have to pitch out, you get it on the green, two-putt and get out of there,” Kerr said. “There’s not going to be any 19-unders on this golf course. I’d be willing to bet everything in my bank account on that.”