OAKMONT, Pa. – Imagine 52 Red Sox-Yankees games all going on at about the same time.
Given the speed of play – or, more precisely, the lack of speedy play – during the first round of the U.S. Women’s Open, it appeared that nearly every threesome took on Oakmont Country Club at a deliberate, take-all-precautions pace on Thursday. The mid-90s temperatures and tricky putting conditions didn’t help.
One of the first golfers on the course, Mhairi McKay of Scotland, found her group warned for slow play after only four holes. The threesome finished in 5 hours, 34 minutes, or exactly one hour longer than the pace sought by the U.S. Golf Association.
“When you have a course such as this, it’s challenging to stay on the clock, on pace,” said McKay, who had an ever-par 71. “There’s not many easy shots out there. … You can’t really get worked up about what was going on on the golf course and the pace.”
It was so hot, and the play was so excruciatingly slow, Paula Creamer managed to eat nearly a full meal while playing her 1-over round of 72. She ate a sandwich and some energy bars, and gulped down bottles of water and low-calorie lemonade.
Some golfers wrapped cold towels around their necks between shots, and one caddie was seen with an ice bag on his head.
There should be some relief Friday, when a passing cold front is predicted to drop temperatures about 10 degrees but also increase the threat for showers.
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WHEN GREEN TURNS TO BROWN: Oakmont Country Club’s speedy greens are difficult enough when in prime condition. But as the opening round wore on and the sun and heat began turning some of them brown, the already tricky putting became even more adventurous.
To maintain a course as it is precisely set up before a tournament, the USGA sometimes backs off watering greens excessively during major championships. But after nearly a week’s worth of steamy weather, Oakmont’s greens were watered Wednesday night and again early Thursday morning. Hand watering also was done during the round.
“The weather is really hot, so (it’s) making more hard greens and more hard fairways,” 2009 Women’s Open champion Eun-Hee Ji said.
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NO REPEAT: Unless she somehow pulls off the comeback of comebacks, there will be no repeat for Ji, last year’s surprise winner at Saucon Valley in eastern Pennsylvania.
She shot a 6-over 77, putting the South Korean closer to the bottom of the leader board than the top. It was the continuation of a difficult year for Ji, who began rebuilding her swing late last year. She hasn’t had a top-25 finish on the LPGA tour all year.
“I’m trying hard, but it’s really hot out there,” she said.
Also struggling in the heat was South Korea’s Jiyai Shin, who was briefly ranked No. 1 in the world earlier this year following Lorena Ochoa’s retirement. After admittedly finding it difficult to practice all week because of the heat, she shot a 5-over 76.
Jeong Eun Lee, another South Korean golfer who emulates Ian Poulter in part because of the colorful way she dresses, had a 71 during her first round in the United States as a professional.
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RECOVERY SHOT: Juli Inkster, the unlucky runner-up when the tournament was last played at Oakmont in 1992, is appearing in her 30th Women’s Open. Only Marlene Hagge (33), Pittsburgh-area amateur star Carol Semple Thompson (32), Kathy Whitworth (31) and Hollis Stacy (31) have played in more.
It’s been 18 years, but Inkster still hasn’t gotten over that Women’s Open loss to Patty Sheehan, who also won in 1994.
Sheehan’s drive on the 72nd hole landed in casual water, and her drop bounced fortuitously into the fairway. She went on to birdie the hole and force a playoff that she won.
“Well, yeah,” Inkster said when asked if she has mended from the technically correct but arguably unfair ruling. “Well, no. It’s the worst ruling in the history of golf. But I mean I’ve overcome it, yes.”
“They say everything happens for a reason but, you know, at that point you couldn’t tell me,” she said.
Inkster bounced back to win the Women’s Open in 1999 and 2002.
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NOT CROWDED: No official first-day attendance figures were announced, but the crowds were only a fraction of those for the same round of the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont. That event was Tiger Woods’ only tournament appearance in the Pittsburgh area to date.
Some fans had entire sections of bleachers to themselves, while others reported being unable to find takers when they offered excess tickets for free. Organizers are hoping for a full-week turnout of 120,000, including practice rounds, or well below the nearly 259,000 who turned out in 2007.
To entice ticket buyers for an event with no mass-appeal golfer to attract fans, Oakmont offered Women Open’s spectators the first option at tickets for the next U.S. Open there … in 2016.