A week like no other
The LPGA's newest marketing slogan is "See Why It's Different Out Here," but that tag could also be used for this week's U.S. Women's Open conducted by the USGA.
It is a different week from any other on tour and without a doubt the championship every player wants to win most. Because it is the only week on the LPGA Tour when its officials do not set up the course, the Open has always been a bit of a mystery.
In my 17 years on tour, I can count on one hand the number of regular events when I went in early to play extra practice rounds to become more comfortable with a course and setup. I made it a fairly regular practice to make that extra effort when it came to the Open because the USGA makes the setup such a complete test ... an exam you see just once a year and one that constantly keeps you off-balance.
More than 30 players made the trip to this year's site, Sebonack GC in Southampton, N.Y., in the tour's off week during the men's U.S. Open to try to get that little extra edge. It is not abnormal to see multiple teeing grounds and angles used throughout the week or to see holes vary by 40 to 50 yards in length.
More families, friends, coaches and managers tend to make the trip to the Open, and that places a premium not only on hitting great golf shots but also on juggling those extra balls -- another element that makes the week of the Open different from all others.
Another element that inevitably comes into play during the Open, especially those held in the East or Midwest, is weather. June is prime time for thunderstorms, and managing weather stops and starts -- resumptions shortly after sunrise and play until sunset -- is crucial. It's just going to happen, and Monday finishes are not out of the norm.
I witnessed classic weather management at the recent men's U.S. Open when I was assigned to follow Justin Rose in Friday's second round. With 2½ holes to play and darkness setting in rapidly, Justin started checking in regularly with the walking official, asking about the length of time they would allow play to continue. He was aiming to get a ball in play off the 18th tee so he could finish the hole in accordance with the rules and get a restful night of sleep. He made a crucial par save at that final hole and remarked to me, "That should be worth a shot somewhere this weekend." He was spot-on. A normal dinner and night of rest, rather than a grab-and-go meal with a 7:15 a.m. resumption with one hole to play, set him up to become the national champion.
Whoever wins the U.S. Women's Open this week will have to be the ultimate manager both on and off the course.
Some of my very best memories came during the Open, from my 14-year-old sister caddying for me in my first Open in 1984 at Salem, to announcing my retirement from competitive play in 2004 at The Orchards, both in Massachusetts.
While I never got the job done at our national championship (I had my best chance in 1990 at Atlanta Athletic Club, needing to hole my second shot at the last to force a playoff), I did win two major championships. I am super proud of those majors and the records associated with them that still stand, but I know as a young girl in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., I always practiced the putt or the chip-in that would win the Open.
I consider it a privilege to be able to cover the premier event in women's golf for ESPN, and all the while I would trade both of my majors for that one U.S. Women's Open ... it means that much.