Major pro-ams mean unusual prep for Ward

Wendy Ward during a practice round for the 2011 Ricoh Women's British Open at Carnoustie.

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Reason No. 596 why the women’s tour differs from the men’s: Pro-ams at the majors. Pro-ams make money, and apparently there’s no way for the LPGA to get around them. But on a week like this, when the women are playing Carnoustie for the first time in Ricoh Women’s British Open history, it’s strange that much of the field saw the course for the first time on Wednesday. (Note: Only the U.S. Women’s Open doesn’t have a pro-am.)

Take Wendy Ward, for example, a Texan who is currently 40th on the LPGA money list. She arrived at Carnoustie from France at 5 p.m. on Monday. Because players weren’t allowed to tee off after 4 p.m., Ward bought a couple of yardage books and walked the course with her caddie and a putter. They tried to imagine all the scenarios they might face in the ever-changing British forecast.

On Tuesday, Ward showed up to the course before the 8 a.m. shotgun in case any of the 20 players in the morning wave didn’t show up. Unlike most weeks on tour, there are no alternates for this week’s pro-am, and Ward told officials she was available if needed. Only 39 players competed in the pro-am. The rest of the field couldn’t play in the afternoon either, even though it stays light here in Scotland well past my bedtime.

Ward considered asking officials if she could walk the pro-am with her housemate for the week, Azahara Munoz, just to see shots. Instead, she stood on the range and tried to play the 18 tee shots in her mind, though she and her caddie struggled to remember all the holes. Ward loves that links courses reward imagination, but she’d probably agree this might be taking it a little far.

Kristy McPherson also arrived late Monday night, and by Tuesday afternoon could only comment on the range and lunch buffet, since that was all she’d seen. She thought both were nice.

On Wednesday, Ward finally managed to play a practice round. It took 5 hours and 40 minutes to get around, but as she pointed out, that’s still 20 minutes shorter than the practice rounds at St. Andrews in 2007.

“Everyone stood on the bridge and took pictures,” she said.

Ward’s assessment after her first loop: “You’ve got to drive well and putt well.” The 38-year-old got her first British golf experience as an LPGA rookie in 1996. Her best finish was a tie for sixth in 2003.

The forecast calls for wind coming from both directions over the next four days, with rain on Thursday. Early-week conditions have been calm and sunny, which means the women really have no idea how tough this track can play. After Thursday, they might sneak by with docile conditions, and even though Ward is a fan of links golf, she won’t complain. Everyone likes to post a low score.

“We may get spoiled,” she said. “We may not get the true taste of Carnoustie.”

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