Hanging In There
Two Back-Nine Holes Rank As Hardest
By Dave Shedloski
South Hadley, Mass. - The rain fell Thursday on this Donald Ross-designed layout, but scores in the 59th U.S. Women's Open didn't follow quite as one might have expected.
|The 16th hole has been playing as one of the two hardest through two rounds. (John Mummert/USGA)
Sure, 12 players, led by Jennifer Rosales at 5-under-par 137, broke par after 36 holes at The Orchards Golf Club. Another four players shot level par. Seventeen players broke par on Friday, including Carin Koch and Kelly Robbins at 4-under 67, and another 16 managed even-par 71.
These are good scores in a U.S. Open. But considering that the fairways have been soft and the Rossian push-up greens are uncharacteristically receptive on the 6,473-yard layout, not to mention the fact that the wind has remained relatively calm, it was a bit surprising that a widespread assault into red numbers by the 156 players in the field didn't materialize.
Blame the rough, which at any Open championship is going to be penal, and hole locations that punished overly-aggressive approaches.
"The first two days the [flagstick] placements have been really tough," said two-time Women's Open winner Annika Sorenstam. "They've been tucked in corners, they've been on little ridges. It's hard to be aggressive."
Yet players tended to be aggressive anyway, and some were rewarded.
"The fairways aren't running so we've had to hit longer irons, but shots are stopping," said Michelle Ellis. "You could fly it in there."
Six of the nine most difficult holes can be found on the outward nine, but the par-4 16th and par-4 18th were the two hardest, ranking first and second, respectively. That was no surprise. The home hole is 412 yards moving left to right and uphill to a small green. Many players simply come up short on the approach.
The 16th, at 439 yards, is the longest par-4 on the golf course, and forced the field into averaging 4.692 strokes. It was converted from a par-5 for this championship, and still must be played like one for many competitors if their tee shots are short or off line. That's because a creek guards the front of the bowl-shaped green, which prevents run-up shots and recoveries.
A whopping 33 times did a player register a double-bogey or higher. Only nine players, including Sorenstam and Michelle Wie, carded a six or more on the 16th and still made the cut.
On the flip side, the par-5 13th hole, just 17 yards longer than the 16th, was by far the easiest hole. With 14 eagles converted there, the 13th was playing to an average of 4.554, the only hole on the course where the players were collectively under par. Though the field was pared to 66 for the weekend, it could still approach the record for eagles on one hole set in 1993 at the par-5 ninth at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind., where 24 eagles were registered.
Interestingly, the record for eagles in a championship is 30, also set at Crooked Stick. Through the first two rounds there were 20 eagles at The Orchards.
Of course, no rain has fallen since early Friday morning and sunshine is in the forecast for the rest of the championship, meaning the course will get dry, fast, and less forgiving. Fewer low scores should be in the offing.
That's when the championship becomes as much - or more - about character as about shot making.
"You just have to hang in there," said Koch. "It's the U.S. Open. Everyone is going to miss shots; everyone is going to miss greens. It's a tough golf course. Here you know every par you make is a good score. So you just try to stay positive and never give up."
Dave Shedloski is a free-lance writer whose work has appeared previously on www.uswomensopen.com.