By Ron Sirak
PINEHURST, N.C. -- The most noticeable difference at the Pinehurst Resort on the Monday after the U.S. Open was the emptiness -- and the heat.
A day after Martin Kaymer finished scorching Pinehurst No. 2, the media center was virtually empty and the bleachers and roped off fan areas were totally without people.
As a pre-emptive measure in the event of a Monday finish because of either weather or a playoff, the USGA had tickets for the U.S. Women’s Open begin on Tuesday.
Michelle Wie, Jessica Korda talking with USGA's Mike Davis (Getty Images photo)
The course, then, was closed to the public on Monday.
There were, however, a lot of LPGA players -- past and present -- at Pinehurst No. 2. Cristie Kerr, Yani Tseng, Stacy Lewis, Inbee Park and Morgan Pressel were among those out early before the heat, which is predicted to be near 100 by Wednesday, got too oppressive.
Also on hand were Alison Nicholas, who won the 1997 U.S. Women’s Open, Pat Bradley, the 1981 champion, and Juli Inkster, who took home the title in 1999 and 2002. Tomorrow night is the past champions dinner.
The only difference in that trio is that Inkster, who turns 54 on June 24, is still competing.
And on her bag this week -- and only for this week -- is Greg Johnston, who caddied for Inkster for 12 years until leaving for Michelle Wie in October 2005, a job he no longer has.
Inkster and Johnston won four major championships together, including those two U.S. Women’s Opens. What a rush it would be to see them on the leader board at some point.
Most of the grousing by players about going second on Pinehurst No. 2 has died down and the general feeling is that the potential reward -- calling more attention to the women’s game -- is worth the risks of playing out of divots or putting on beat-up greens.
But it was clear Monday that, as USGA executive director Mike Davis said, “The course got a good drink overnight.” To be honest, it looked great.
At this point, things are going (least we jinx it) perfectly. The U.S. Open ended Sunday giving the USGA and Pinehurst plenty of time to get No. 2 ready for Thursday’s start.
It is going to be more than 10 degrees hotter for the women than it was for the men, and a lot more humid with a greater chance of thunderstorms.
The renovated Pinehurst No. 2 performed brilliantly last week, and there is no reason to think it won’t do the same this week.
Bradley, for one, was raving about the back-to-back U.S. Opens.
“This is the time to do this,” she said. “My time was not the right time. People are ready for this. The public is ready for it. This will help bring attention to women’s golf.”
Equally pleased was Tom O’Toole Jr., president of the USGA.
“I walked with Martin Kaymer and Rickie Fowler yesterday and I was delighted to see how many contestants in the Women’s Open were out there watching. I introduced myself to all of them.”
Most were doing more than watch. They were taking note of how the men played No. 2.
At one point, Michelle Wie and Jessica Korda pulled Davis to the side of the tee box on No. 13 and asked him detailed questions about how to maneuver the hole. He loved answering them.
Week I of the Twin Opens went without a hitch and in Kaymer produced a deserving winner. Now we buckle down for week II. It should be just as entertaining -- perhaps even more so.