Notebook: The Heat is On


Darin Bevard, director of the Mid-Atlantic Region of the USGA Green Section, needs to water the course regularly at this week's APL at Laurel Hill Golf Club, as harsh weather conditions have taken a toll on more than just the players. (USGA/Joel Kowsky)
By Andrew Blair
July 19, 2013

LORTON, Va. -- Boiling conditions at the 2013 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship have made for a dry cleaner’s dream.

Sahara-like weather has predominated at the championship, taking place at Laurel Hill Golf Club. Water levels are above normal in some regions of Virginia, but according to Ben Woods, a meteorologist for the United States Golf Association, it has been the hottest week on record this year in the Washington metro area.

“Here in Lorton, we’ve had day after day of afternoon highs of 96 degrees, but a heat index of 108 degrees – that’s the ‘feels-like’ temperature,” Woods said. “Not many days have we had much of a breeze to help [players] out, so if you’re in the full sun and in an area without much wind, it’s rough.”

Players, caddies, rules officials, volunteers and anyone who has stepped outside for an extended period of time this week provide visual evidence. Most have come back to the clubhouse drenched in sweat as a result of the oppressive heat.

Steve Biondi, who caddied for quarterfinalist Austin Smotherman, lugged around his player’s bag – which weighs around 20 pounds – for 129 holes this week. Smotherman’s practice rounds totaled 27 holes, then he went through 36 holes of stroke-play qualifying on Monday and Tuesday before the Loomis, Calif., resident played a combined four matches on Wednesday and Thursday. Biondi has been there every step of the way.

“Some people pay good money to go to a spa and get all of the toxins out of them,” said Biondi with a laugh. “All you have to do is carry a [golf] bag in Virginia – you get the same benefit.”

Rules official Sean Mulvenson, a Fayetteville, Ark., resident who teaches statistics at the University of Arkansas, has traversed 109 holes, comprised of two rounds of stroke play and four matches. Following Thursday’s morning session, he returned from his match soaked from head to toe. He looked at the heat index after walking off the golf course and it was 109 degrees.

“Most of the officials are drinking a bottle of water or Gatorade every two holes,” said Mulvenson. “Really, starting at 10 a.m., the heat index is getting up into triple digits and it stays there until 4 or 5 p.m. From 10 a.m. on, the conditions are very comparable.

“It’s not so much that it’s a hard walk. It’s just a very heavy heat. I give a lot of credit to these players and the quality golf they’re playing in this type of heat.”

Finalist Michael Kim, of Del Mar, Calif., knows the brutal weather is taking its toll on everyone, especially as the day wears on and it feels like you’re stepping into an oven once you set foot outside.

“It’s as much as a physical grind as mental. It’s tough,” he said. “The thing is that I know the other guy is just as tired as I am. Everybody has to play through it. It’s a mental grind, for sure.”

There are unsettling reminders about just how dangerous the sun can be. In Friday morning’s quarterfinals, Kyle Henning noticed his dad, Bruce, struggling as they walked up the 14th hole. Bruce was experiencing shortness of breath and as a result, Kyle ordered that his father be taken off the course. A cart took him back to the clubhouse where his condition was closely monitored.

“You have to be smart. We made the right call,” Bruce said.

The consistency of the heat has presented its own challenges from an agronomic standpoint. Darin Bevard, a senior agronomist for the USGA Green Section's Turf Advisory Service, has been monitoring the conditions of the all-bentgrass course each day. Brevard and his crew have been doing light watering and cutting and rolling greens every day to counter the heat.   

“It’s meant a lot of stress on the putting greens primarily,” Bevard said. “It’s also meant that we’ve had no opportunity to get the greens firm and not all that fast, although they’ve done a good job of maintaining pace.

“We have to cool them off frequently. You try to do it really lightly so it doesn’t affect play.”

Woods notes that everyone has to be appropriately cautious when the mercury reaches such incredible heights.

“I cannot stress this enough – the importance of staying hydrated and, when you can, seeking some shade and some [air-conditioning],” he said. “Try not to overexert yourself while you’re in that intense heat. If you do have signs of getting dizzy or feeling nauseous, that’s an early sign: Get out of the heat – now.”

First Tee Appreciation

After being eliminated from the APL in Friday morning’s quarterfinals, Austin Smotherman reflected on what it has taken to get him this far.

His thoughts immediately turned toward his participation in The First Tee program as a youth. The First Tee Program is a national, non-profit organization of more than 200 chapters with the mission of impacting the lives of young people by providing learning facilities and educational programs that promote character development and life-enhancing values through the game of golf.

When Smotherman was only 9 years old, he began spending his summer weekends playing in events conducted by The First Tee of Greater Sacramento. He soon got attached to the initiative and to the game. Smotherman played in two First Tee Opens and beyond the course, served locally on The First Tee’s Junior Advisory Committee and even helped his high school team get involved.

Talk about a First Tee fraternity – Smotherman, who aged out of the program at 18, still stays in touch with former First Tee participants and has watched fellow alums go on to play college golf. Smotherman himself is a rising junior at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and is one of The First Tee’s many success stories.  

“It definitely prepared me for everything. I owe it all to The First Tee pretty much,” he said. “Staying mentally tough, on and off the course, and then being in match play – it’s all mental, too.”

Andrew Blair is director of communications for the Virginia State Golf Association. He is assisting the USGA this week at the APL.  

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