Pinehurst quiets as women gear up

Lexi Thompson practices Sunday at Pinehurst in advance of the 2014 U.S. Women's Open.
Lexi Thompson practices Sunday at Pinehurst in advance of the 2014 U.S. Women's Open. ( USGA )

Monday, June 16, 2014

PINEHURST, N.C. – On Sunday, during the final round of the U.S. Open, there were 55,000 people on the grounds of Pinehurst No. 2.

Today there are 13. OK, maybe I'm exaggerating. There may be only 12.

It's Monday, one day after the U.S. Open participants have jetted themselves out of town. The grandstands are empty. The concession stands are shut down. The volunteers have gone home. The fairway ropes are begging for spectators to rub up against them.

Pinehurst is a ghost town.

What an eerie sight: absorbing the commotion of a major championship one day, then watching it all go away the next. Everything is so quiet. It looks and feels like the end of the world.

The Women's U.S. Open starts Thursday on the same No. 2 course played by the men, and practice rounds are underway while the course is closed to the public for this prelude to history.

The U.S. Open and Women's U.S. Open have never before been played back-to-back on the same golf course. This is a daring experiment conducted by the U.S. Golf Association. Indeed this is history.

More than that, however, this is a test of the strength and drawing power of women's golf. Will fans show up? Will enthusiastic crowds cheer and yell for their favorites? Will there be a positive carryover effect from one national championship to another?

One fear is that the women will be embarrassed by their projected failure to tame the 6,649-yard Donald Ross golf course. Based on early reports from Monday's practice rounds, the women will be hitting plenty of fairway woods and low-lofted hybrids into the par-4 greens. Many observers are predicting a bumpy ride for the women.

It's as if the entire sport of women's golf is being forced to stand up against Pinehurst No. 2 as well as the ill-conceived notion that women cannot play consistently well on a championship course set up for men.

For the women and the LPGA, there is much to gain and certainly much to lose.

It won't be easy. On one hand, they are being asked to conduct themselves as fashionable, attractive young women; on the other hand, they are expected to play golf with the tenacity and skill of men.

USGA executive director Mike Davis has talked extensively about equality. For shots into greens at Pinehurst No. 2, he wants the women to use roughly the same clubs as the men. To accomplish this, of course, the women have to be hitting from positions closer to the greens.

Here's Davis: "If the women are hitting, say, two clubs more into the first hole, we might look at another hole, and say, 'Let's catch up on this particular hole and have them hit two less clubs into it,' something like that. But the thing that we have to be mindful of is just like there is on the PGA Tour with the men this week – that from top to bottom there's a pretty big difference from the longest hitters and the shortest hitter. We say the same thing with the women, too."

Despite all the efforts to bolster women's golf, expectations remain for a multitude of missed greens, missed putts and high scores.