2014 U.S. Women’s Open: USGA adds distance in combining championships

Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network

PINEHURST, N.C. – As the 2014 U.S. Open final round of play was underway on the No. 2 course at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club on Sunday, and with the remaining competitors continuing to warm up on the driving range and putting green, something happened that had never been witnessed at any United States Golf Association (USGA) championship before.

LPGA Tour and female amateur golfers strode onto the range and began their preparation to take on the challenge of conquering the famed Donald Ross course that would eventually be set up to par 70 and 6,649 yards for the 69th playing of U.S. Women’s Open that starts on Thursday.

With both the men’s and women’s championship tournaments taking place in one location for the first time ever in back-to-back weeks, the sight of both PGA and LPGA Tour players in one place was a unique and exciting one to see for everyone in attendance.

It felt and looked different even for 12-year LPGA Tour veteran Natalie Gulbis who led the way.

“I’ve played in 13 Opens and there’s always extra excitement,” Gulbis said.

“If you’re an American player there’s a little bit extra, but this, nothing like today. I felt the nerves just kind of coming through there. We usually don’t get this sort of presence when we come out and practice just before the tournament’s even started.”

As Gulbis was quickly surrounded by photographers and reporters, she eventually got time to hit balls and continued her preparation to compete in a tournament in which she placed as high as tied for fourth place back in 2005.

The LPGA Tour has taken a circuitous journey with three commissioners leading the way throughout Gulbis’ career since she began as a rookie in 2002.

She believes that recent events, including showcasing both men’s and women’s national championships in one location, have generated much excitement.

“There’s so much momentum going on, positive things going on with the Tour right now,” Gulbis said.

“I think this will just continue.”

“Completely changed,” she continued about the state of the women’s game.

“This, this,” she pointed to the crowd buzzing around the range area.

“Playing at Oakmont a couple of years ago, having a U.S. Open there. Playing our British Open last year, our Open championship, at St. Andrews. We’re playing for more money. We have more fan base. A lot more exciting things, very strategic good things, are happening with the Tour and (we’re) playing on good golf courses. This is huge. You saw what happened a couple of weeks ago with KPMG announcing a big involvement. You’re seeing major companies wanting to be partners with the LPGA.”

With the LPGA Tour gaining more exposure, so does the USGA particularly with showcasing the U.S. Women’s Open championship at ‘the home of American Golf’.

It’s a booming drive off the tee that has added much excitement for players and fans alike.

Even while doing so, and striding quickly on the heels of the recent U.S. Open and its male competitors, many wonder how Coore and Crenshaw’s re-creation will treat golf’s best female golfers.

Will they be up to the task or will they be humbled as many of the men were?

“The USGA’s awesome,” Gulbis said when asked if she was curious how the course would be set up for the women.

She wasn’t going to worry about it more than she needed to.

She was focused on preparing for the challenge ahead of her and to let the USGA do what it does best.

“They know how to do this. They’ve thought about this. They’ve overanalyzed this more than we could ever even start. And they’ve thought about this for the last two years, so they’ve had every scenario out there and I think they know exactly what they wanna’ do. I have confidence in that.”