Long week ahead at US Women's Open

July 8, 2009 8:51:58 PM PDT
Play hasn't started, yet it's shaping up to be a long week for the players at the U.S. Women's Open - on and off the course.

The women's national championship kicks off Thursday on the long, narrow fairways and undulating greens of Saucon Valley County Club, which will play more than 6,700 yards to a par 71.

But it's not the typically tough USGA setup that is causing players' angst, or fear of the miserable weather that swamped the U.S. Open at Bethpage in June.

It's the brouhaha launched by a faction of key players calling for LPGA Tour commissioner Carolyn Bivens to resign.

Nearly every player doing interviews has faced questions about the controversy, which Golfweek Magazine first reported on Monday. According to the magazine, key players sent a letter to the LPGA board saying the tour's woes can't be blamed on a poor economy and that the LPGA needs a new leader to rebuild relationships with sponsors.

The tour has lost seven tournaments since 2007.

Top-ranked Lorena Ochoa took part in the players' meeting that spawned the letter and stepped up Wednesday to address the swirling controversy that threatens to overshadow the championship.

Ochoa said the players want a more active role in moving the LPGA Tour ahead.

"We as players, we want to be more involved in what is happening and we want to see the tour going in a better direction," said Ochoa, whose best finish in a Women's Open was a tie for second in 2007.

"There's not much we can do. I believe they will do the best for us, and hopefully things will start, you know, moving in a good direction, because we are worried that we're losing tournaments and we want to get back on a good track."

Most players sidestepped questions about the letter and the fallout. Some, like defending champion Inbee Park and Cristie Kerr, said they won't comment out of respect for the USGA event. LPGA Championship winner Anna Nordqvist declined to comment because she is a rookie.

Kerr, who won the Women's Open in 2007, read a prepared statement Tuesday and asked the media to limit its questions to the event, golf - and her wine making.

Paula Creamer said she's concerned about tour events, but declined further comment, saying it is "out of my control."

The LPGA Tour also issued a statement Tuesday, saying the focus this week should be on the Open.

When the golf does start Thursday, players will be faced with a Saucon Valley course that is hosting its sixth USGA event and first Women's Open. The course hosted the 1951 U.S. Amateur, the 1983 U.S. Junior Amateur, the 1987 Senior Amateur and the U.S. Senior Open in 1992 and 2000.

Players raved about the pristine condition of the course.

"When I think of the U.S. Open, definitely this course defines that," said Creamer, who's looking for her first win of the season and first Women's Open. "It's tight; there's not many birdie opportunities that you can make out there."

Creamer was tied for second after three rounds of last year's championship, but stumbled at the outset of the final round and settled for a tie for sixth.

Creamer is battling inflammation in her left thumb that makes gripping the club difficult. She has had two cortisone shots in the thumb and thinks she knows what it will take to win the event.

"Four days of good golf," she said simply. "That's pretty much, to me, all I can control. I have to be able to be patient, be in my own world."

Ochoa likes the course setup and listed three keys for her to win her first Women's Open: accuracy with the driver and approach shots, as well as patience.

"I like the shape of the holes; I think it is good for my driver," she said. "The greens are so hilly ... You just need to make sure you keep the ball in the right position on the green.

"So, just try to be patient out there ... Just try to make as many pars as you can."

Any USGA event is full of risk-reward choices, and this Women's Open might take that aspect of the game to a new level. Mike Davis, the USGA's senior director of rules and competition, said different tee boxes will be used over the four days to vary the lengths of some holes. The par-3 ninth will range in length from 180 yards to 210, and depending on the tees some par-4 holes might be drivable.

"There are some very neat opportunities out there to really showcase some of the architecture that you wouldn't see if you played from the back teeing ground every day," Davis said. "And to really mix and match some hole locations that you wouldn't maybe necessarily use from the back teeing ground."

The 156-player field includes 28 amateurs and players from 22 countries. The youngest player is 13-year-old Yueer Cindy Feng of Orlando, and reigning U.S. Girls Junior champ Alexis Thompson, 14, who in 2007 was the youngest Women's Open qualifier in history, is back for her third open.

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