Oakmont, Pa. – For Mike Davis, the holiday season has arrived five months early and without any snowflakes.
The USGA’s senior director of Rules and Competitions certainly appeared like a giddy child on Christmas Eve during Wednesday’s press conference to discuss the setup for the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open at Oakmont Country Club.
Even with the mercury reaching the low 90s, Davis said that conditions could not be more ideal: The perfect championship golf course with perfect playing characteristics that fit the USGA’s criteria of a firm and fast test for the world’s best female golfers.
I really feel we’re positioned to have just a great test of golf the next four days, said Davis. It’s just so good. In fact, it’s perfect [and] it’s been that way the last five days we’ve been here.
I’m so excited. For me, every championship site has its things that you get very excited about, but for some reason when you walk on Oakmont, it just has a mystique to it. I am truly giddy the whole week that I’m here. It’s just so good.
At 6,613 yards, Oakmont is only 600 yards shorter than what the men faced in the 2007 U.S. Open, when Angel Cabrera held off Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk by one stroke. Outside of green speeds being approximately 1 foot slower on the Stimpmeter – high-13s to low 14s versus high 14s to low-15s – along with rough being cut slightly lower, the golf course essentially is playing the same for the women.
Even better is that Mother Nature has cooperated by not dropping any precipitation on the layout. That has allowed superintendent John Zimmers, Davis and the rest of the championship officials to get the course to perform the way they want it to. Davis has carefully watched players during the practice rounds to see how balls are reacting to certain shots.
Without any rain, the maintenance staff has been able to hand-water greens and approach areas to get the firmness just perfect.
We take firmness readings three times a day on every green in nine quadrants, said Davis. That information we give not only to John Zimmers, but to the guys hand-watering. So if we’re lucky enough to have a dry Oakmont where we get to control the firmness, you’re going to see the conditions for the women very much like the men.
Of course, nobody can talk about Oakmont without mentioning two key components: the greens and bunkers. Each has its own set of challenges and will require the players to carefully plot the appropriate strategy.
Most of the green complexes are severely undulated and with the speeds reaching 13 of 14 on the Stimpmeter, missing in the wrong spot could create unwarranted problems.
The bunkers, especially those in the fairways, can be extremely penal, to the point where in some instances golfers can’t reach the green.
These [bunkers] are very much like you would see over in the British Isles when they play the British Open, said Davis. You really need to avoid these drive-zone bunkers because it’s a half-stroke to maybe three-quarters of a stroke penalty.
That’s part of Oakmont. It’s always been that way back when Henry Fownes built the course at the turn of the last century.
Because the women don’t hit the ball the same distances as the men, Oakmont agreed to construct a couple of new teeing grounds on the two short par-4s, hole Nos. 2 and 17. This will allow the USGA to play a forward tee in a couple of rounds to entice the golfers to drive the green if they choose.
Most remember that the par-4 17th was a pivotal hole in 2007. Furyk went for the green and made a bogey-5 from the greenside bunker and Woods could only muster a par.
In 2007, we didn’t see near as many players trying to knock it on the second green, and we expect that this week, said Davis. That will play a little longer [than the listed yardage], but we’re still going to dangle that carrot out there certain days. And the same thing with 17.
It was such a wonderful risk-reward hole in 2007. I think the architecture and the setup allow us to set those up where, if you did try to be aggressive and you executed the proper shot, you actually could pull it off.
Davis also recommended that every player in this year’s field review the tape from 2007. In essence, they could discover some hidden secret to play Oakmont. Then again, the winning score in 2007 was 5-over 285.
This is absolutely the hardest golf course that we have chosen for a Women’s Open Championship, just like I said it was for the men’s championship, said Davis. So will you see some higher scores? Absolutely. But I also think that when we set a golf course up, what we’re trying to do is identify a national champion.
David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org