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Women could be in for a long week

U.S. Open course figures to be a challenge, but USGA can change things up.

July 09, 2009|Mark Wogenrich

BETHLEHEM, PA. — Part meteorologist, part agronomist, part mad scientist, Mike Davis is the most feared person (at least among the women playing) at this week's 64th U.S. Women's Open. The USGA's course-setup head is the guy who, with a few orders to the folks controlling the mowers and sprinklers, can turn the Old Course into Oakmont. Or he can make it a benign home to a parade of birdie-binging 65s.

It's clear which option the players predict.

"By Sunday afternoon, after everything is done," Paula Creamer said, "there's going to be a lot of mentally tired people."

With its wearying length, tangled rough and fearsome greens (all mixed into Davis' special homemade brew), the Old Course at Saucon Valley Country Club could be the overbearing big sister for the women when they tee off in today's opening round of the four-day championship.

The Old Course is set to play at 6,740 yards, technically making it the third-longest routing in championship history. Though nine yards shorter than it played for the U.S. Senior Open in 2000, the course won't yield a repeat of Hale Irwin's record-setting winning score of 17 under par that year.

"When I left after playing [a practice round], I thought, boy this is long," Angela Stanford said. "You're going to have to hit it straight and long. Sometimes you can get away with hitting it long and being all over the place, but not this week."

The man who will have a lot to say about the scores is Davis, the USGA's director of rules & competitions who has set up Open courses since 2006.

Though intimidating, the course length this week is a malleable issue. Davis can move tees ahead and back to change distances, so the course won't play to its full 6,740 yards on any single day.

For this Women's Open, Davis has designated two par fours to play as drivable for at least two rounds: the 10th hole will shift from 332 to 252 yards on the weekend, and the 15th will swing from 339 to 257.

In addition, the 210-yard par-three ninth, into which some players hit three-wood or driver, will play at 178 yards for the first two days of the championship.

Further, Davis has a few wrinkles in mind that he's reticent to reveal just yet. He might set up one hole as a really short par three one day, because there's this "very cool" hole location he's dying to try.

mark.wogenrich@mcall.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

The facts

Site: Bethlehem, Pa.

Schedule: Thursday-Sunday.

Course: Saucon Valley Country Club, Old Course (6,740 yards, par 71).

Purse: $3.25 million. Winner's share: $585,000.

TV: ESPN (Today-Friday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.) and Ch. 4 (Saturday-Sunday, Noon-3 p.m.).

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