USGA's Davis addresses concerns at LPGA meeting

A view of hole No. 5 from a little less than 300 yards out on Pinehurst's No. 2 course, host of the U.S. Open and U.S. Women's Open in 2014.

PHOENIX –– Natalie Gulbis has one of the best marketing minds on the LPGA. So it comes as no surprise that she’s giddy about the idea of back-to-back majors. The U.S. Women’s Open hasn’t received this kind of pre-tournament buzz since, well, ever.

But, in this case, Gulbis doesn’t represent what the majority of marquee players think about playing No. 2. after the men. Which is why LPGA commissioner Mike Whan invited USGA executive director Mike Davis to an LPGA player meeting this week at the JTBC Founders Cup to answer questions and ease concerns.

The big question on everyone’s mind: Why aren’t the women playing first?

“Plain and simple, it has everything to do with the agronomics,” Davis said.

When the idea of playing two Opens in consecutive weeks first came about, Davis said, most everyone assumed the women would go first. But after consulting with agronomists, it became clear to the USGA that in order to have the green speeds be the same for both champoinships – roughly 11.5 – they needed to add more moisture to the greens in the second week to soften them because women hit the ball lower and with less spin.

Trying to make the greens drier in the second week if the men went second would be far more difficult, Davis said.

Stacy Lewis, for one, didn’t feel Davis’ explanations about divots and landing areas and the overall conditions of the course after a week of play eased many minds in the room. Not to mention what happens if Mother Nature interferes.

“A lot of what he said was ‘depending on the weather,’ ” Lewis said. “We need perfect weather for all of this to happen as it should.”

Davis did say that if a playoff is needed on Monday for the U.S. Open, play would start at noon and U.S. Women’s Open participants could tee off prior to the playoff as well as after to get in practice rounds.

“This could be something very neat for the fans as well as television,” Davis said.

The last time the U.S. Women’s Open had any kind of significant pre-tournament buzz about the venue was in 2010 when the women played Oakmont.

“Skeptics were saying ‘Can the women handle Oakmont?’ ” Davis recalled. “They handled it beautifully.”

In fact, it was a highly successful USWO for the USGA with a most popular champion in Paula Creamer.

2007 USWO champ Cristie Kerr thought many players in the room on Tuesday evening were biting their tongue.

“Mike (Davis) said we’ve never really seen a divot determine the outcome of a tournament but you might this time,” Kerr said.

The USGA’s hope is that casual fans who wouldn’t normally watch women’s golf will tune in out of curiosity to see how the women handle the same course the men tackled.

As the Merion experiment proved last year, pre-tournament angst isn’t always a bad thing. The USGA has been known to prove us wrong.

“There’s more being talked about for this year’s U.S. Women’s Open than any other since I’ve been at the USGA,” Davis said.

That’s saying something.

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