Same Course, New Cast of Golfers at Pinehurst No. 2

Pinehurst, n.c. — The sounds at Pinehurst No. 2 were the first indication that the second week of U.S. Open golf would not be exactly the same as the first one.

Players arrived on the first day of practice to hear clanging from workers tearing down half of the grandstands around the 17th and 18th greens. They heard the whoosh of water coming from a hose that watered the greens to keep them softer.

That didn’t make the stage for the U.S. Women’s Open feel any smaller.

“We play good golf courses, but sometimes we don’t play great golf courses,” said Juli Inkster, playing the Women’s Open for the 35th time. “It seems the men play great golf courses week in and week out. I think when we come here, we’re maybe a little more appreciative of playing a great golf course. It’s in fabulous shape. I really didn’t know what to expect, us playing after the men. And it’s turned out great.

“You can’t even tell that the men were here the week before — except for the huge tents and everything.”

The U.S. Women’s Open gets started today in golf’s version of a doubleheader. Just four days after Martin Kaymer won the U.S. Open with the second-lowest score in history (271), it’s the women’s turn.

Everyone from the 53-year-old Inkster to 11-year-old Lucy Li will get a crack on a Donald Ross course fresh on the minds of golf fans who watched the U.S. Open last week.

“Last week with the men, they proved that under par is possible,” defending champion Inbee Park said. “So yeah, we should go out there and try to shoot under par.”

It’s the first time the men and women have competed on the same golf course for a major in back-to-back weeks.

Pinehurst No. 2 will play at 6,649 for the women — just over 900 yards shorter than for the men — though it most likely won’t play as long as the card indicated, just as it didn’t a week ago.

The plan is for the greens to be the same speed, except a lot less firm. Even though a shorter course should allow the women to use the same clubs, the majority do not hit the ball as high or with as much spin.

And then there are the optional extras.

Reg Jones, the senior director of both U.S. Opens, said bleachers around the 18th green that seated 4,077 seats now are big enough for 1,560 fans. Six supplemental concession stands have closed.

The USGA refers to this doubleheader as a celebration of women’s golf. It sounds a bit more like an experiment. No one is sure what to expect.

Cristie Kerr, who won her U.S. Women’s Open up the road at Pine Needles in 2007, already was concerned about the weed-filled sandy areas that replaced thick rough. Kaymer last week hit a 7-iron from 202 yards out of the scrub area to 5 feet for eagle on No. 5, one of the more pivotal shots of his blowout win.

“The native areas — the ‘stuff’ they were calling it last week — that’s going to play a lot tougher for us than it is for the men,” Kerr said. “We’re hitting longer clubs out of it than the men are. We’re not hitting down on it as much.

“So it plays tougher for us. They wanted us to hit the same clubs into the greens as the men. But I have to tell you, we’re hitting longer clubs into the greens than the men and we don’t spin it as much.”

What will that mean to a sixth-grade girl?

Li has been the biggest attraction this week as the youngest qualifier in U.S. Women’s Open history, and with a chance to become the youngest player to make the cut. Marlene Bauer was 13 when she tied for 14th in the 1947 U.S. Women’s Open in Greensboro.

“The perfect week? I just want to go out there and have fun and play the best I can,” Li said. “And I really don’t care about the outcome.”

The biggest fear was the amount of divots left behind from the men, though that doesn’t appear to be a problem.

“We really feel like we’re well-positioned for a great championship this week,” USGA executive director Mike Davis said.

The biggest concern is making sure the greens don’t get so crusty from temperatures expected to approach 100 degrees that it’s impossible for balls to stay on the green.

As soon as the U.S. Open ended, the maintenance staff applied water to the greens in four-minute cycles, three times a day. It plans to water the greens every night.

“They’ve obviously chucked a lot of waters on the greens since Sunday,” Laura Davies said after her practice round Tuesday. “I didn’t have one shot bounce crazy off the back of the green. I think we all thought that it should have been the other way around — we all felt we should have come here first and then the guys.

“But I think the USGA has got it spot on. Because they have turned the course around ... and gone from a Sunday of a U.S. Open to having it play really fair at the moment.

“I’m sure by next Sunday it will be hard and bouncy, and we’re all going to be complaining like we always do.”