Mike Gross: Mother Nature could change Open’s narrative

Posted: July 5, 2015 10:08 pm

U.S. Open golf courses are supposed to be dry and hard and fast and bouncy. That’s the perennially hot setup for identifying a champion according to the United States Golf Association.

It doesn’t look like we’ll be getting dry and hard and fast and bouncy at Lancaster Country Club this week. Mother Nature has seen to it, and may not let up through the four days of the U.S. Women’s Open, if the weather forecast is to be believed.

So maybe conditions will turn this into a bomber’s Open. Maybe that changes the narrative a little, hurting players who might otherwise have been favorites and helping others who might not have been.

Double-edge sword: Soft conditions mean less roll, which lengthens the course but also effectively widens fairways. Feel free to pull out that driver, ladies.

“It is long” defending champion Michelle Wie said after completing a practice round Sunday. “It’s playing a little bit softer right now, so it’s definitely long, but it’s good (for me).”

“I only hit one 3-wood off the tee today,” said Suzann Pettersen, the world’s fifth-ranked player, who also played Sunday. “You don’t have to think too much about hitting driver.”

The course will play around 6,500 yards for the Open, a reasonable but deceptive number. There are five par-4s, the ninth, 10th, 11th, 15th and 18th, that are in the 420-yard range but will play longer, with uphill approach shots to complex, undulating greens.

Add in the eighth, a par-3 that can play close to 200 yards with another one of those greens, and you have a third of the golf course on which most of the field will be hitting long irons, hybrids or even fairway woods into greens.

“The greens are big enough,” Pettersen said. “You can easily take the slopes out, and use the slopes in some cases.”

You can, but anyone who plays even recreational golf knows that the shorter the club in your hands, the easier it is to do.

Many of the pros who’ve played practice rounds at L.C.C. reported hitting woods into 10 and 18. Morgan Pressel, for example, hit 3-wood into 18. A few players have failed to reach 18 with a 3-wood.

Wie reportedly hit 7-iron into 10 the other day. Petterson said she “squeezed a 4-iron,” into the eighth. Wie hit an iron into 18 Friday, but a hybrid Sunday.

Our working theory favors elite-level players who bomb it, like Brittany Lincicome (2nd among LPGA tour players with an average driving distance of 273 yards), Lexi Thompson (ninth, 265), and Sei Young Kim (13th, 263).

Pettersen and Wei are 21st and 26th in distance, but those may also be deceptive numbers. Pettersen is in the final stages of dialing in a swing change with coach Butch Harmon, and Wei is coming off hip and ankle injuries.

“I feel like my ball-striking is back to where I want it,” Petterson said. “In January (the new swing) was perfect, but then you tweak yourself into old habits.”

Petterson struggled early this year, but won the Manulife Classic in June, and finished seventh in the Women’s PGA the following week.

She visited Harmon in Las Vegas last week and, “got my draw back with the driver.”

Wie played Sunday with the now-familiar brace on her left ankle and compression tape all over her lower body.

“(The injuries) have definitely been holding e back a little bit,” Wie admitted. “Because of the pain, I have had to change my swing a little bit.”

Whatever the reason, 2015 has been a struggle. Wie’s best finish of the year was 11th, and she’s made one cut since April.

“It’s definitely better than it was before,” Wie said. “I’ve had two (platelet-rich plasma injections) now, and that’s definitely pushed me forward.”

Wie had not seen L.C.C. before last week. Although she played only the back nine Sunday, she now has 45 holes in on the course since Thursday.

“I’m thankful that I came early,” she said. “Now I can take it somewhat easy the next couple days.”