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Back-to-Back Backbreaker?

Continued (page 2 of 4)

THE MONEY ANGLE

It has always struck me that back-to-back Opens is convenient mainly to the USGA and its pocketbook.

"Contrary to what many think, this is not a way to save money," Davis says.

That might be the position today, with the USGA holding its billion-dollar television contract with FOX, but when the back-to-back Opens were announced in 2009—when the economy was tanking and even the USGA was dismissing employeesthen-executive director David Fay candidly admitted there were "economies of scale" in the package, avoiding duplication of expenses for such things as vendors, bleachers, hospitality tents, portable toilets and the like. (Fay says he had a bigger problem at the time: finding a suitable venue for the Women's Open, as he explains on page 166) Still, he professed an altruistic motive for his invention.

"This is being done primarily to elevate the Women's Open," Fay told me in 2009. In other words, the Women's Open has traditionally been a loss-leader, not a money-maker. But it worked. The USGA reports it sold about 10,000 packages containing two-week passes to both Opens. Including corporate attendees, media, vendors and spectators, daily attendance is predicted at 55,000 for the men and 25,000 for the women. And having the Women's Open in the same conversation with the men's championship has already raised the profile with articles like this one.

Fay said he got the idea from the men's and women's U.S. Opens of professional tennis, conducted concurrently, not consecutively. During Fay's tenure, the USGA conducted some concurrent events at multiple courses, including the U.S. Boys and Girls' Juniors and the U.S. Men's and Women's Public Links.

Why not play both Opens during the same week at Pinehurst? Both couldn't be played at the same time on Pinehurst No. 2 (not in four days, anyway), but there are plenty of other courses at the resort. Plus, there's a three-time Women's Open host, Pine Needles, just five miles away. Logistically impossible for television purposes, I've been told. Really? Coverage of golf on television is all about switching back and forth from hole to hole. Why not back and forth from course to course? The most plausible reason: The men's Open pays a lot of bills at the USGA, and you don't mess with the franchise.

There's an even more radical suggestion by former Women's Open champ Paula Creamer, who enthusiastically supports her national championship on Pinehurst No. 2: Have everyone play the same course, she says, with alternating tee times once the cuts have been made. Imagine crowning the women's and men's winners within 15 minutes of each other on the same green. The main arguments against: It would take four days just for the first 36 holes, and there'd be a huge field after the two cuts that could push the closing holes into darkness.

Pinehurst
"People have stereotypes. People have misconceptions. This is a pretty neat opportunity to let men and women perform at the same time at the same place." —Mike Davis, USGA executive director

HOW THE SETUPS WILL BE THE SAME,
AND HOW THEY'LL DIFFER

'We have two intentions with back-to-back Opens," Davis says. "One is to compare the men and the women on the same golf course, set up the same way, relatively speaking. The other thing is to showcase women's golf."

Davis uses the phrase "relatively speaking" because the women won't be playing from the same tees as the men. The official yardage for the U.S. Open will be 7,565 yards, par 70. For the Women's Open, the course is listed at 6,649 yards, par 70. That's 87.9 percent of the men's yardage. One change from the 1999 and 2005 Opens: The famed par-4 fifth hole becomes a par 5, and the par-5 fourth hole becomes a par 4. New forward tees on Nos. 3 and 13 will give Davis the option of tempting players with drivable par 4s.

"Women professionals never get enough credit for how truly good they are," Davis says. "They do play a slightly different game. They hit the ball a little straighter than men. They don't hit it quite as far or as high—most of them, anyway. And they don't spin it quite as much. But they play a wonderful game, and this has the ability to showcase that. On a given hole, if the men are hitting driver, we want to see the women hit driver. If the men are hitting 8-iron into a green, that's what we want to see the women do. If you just look at the average drives from each tour, there's about 40 yards' difference off the tee between men and women."

So the tee-shot landing zones are mostly 40 yards apart (and 40 yards long) with the women's zones closer to the greens. This should alleviate concerns, Davis says, that the women will be hitting onto fairways pockmarked with the men's divots. That worry is overblown, he says. They'll be hitting well past those areas. It won't be a problem.

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July 28, 2014

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