Last week Pine Needles Lodge & GC tipped out at 6,664 yards for the U.S. Women's Open. That's 408 yards longer than when the women played there in 2001. Although the par-4 15th played this year as a par 5, the nearly 23-yard bump per hole jumped off the scorecard. Consider that across the same time frame, Southern Hills CC, site of the 2001 U.S. Open and the upcoming PGA Championship, only boosted its length by 158 yards.
With so much attention being directed at the bomb-and-gougers on the men's tour, is it possible the impact of equipment on the women's game is flying under the radar?
Meg Mallon thinks so. "It's like the men. You don't have to be a shotmaker anymore," she said. "Everyone just hits it straight. You used to know who could hit a 2-iron out here. Now it's all hybrids and 11-woods. Girls are swinging so much more aggressively than they used to be able to."
How aggressively? Maria Hjorth ranked first in driving distance at Pine Needles' in 2001 with an average of 247.4 yards. Last weekend Karin Sjodin held that honor with an average of 279.1 yards. But there's a reason. As with the men, LPGA players have become more educated in the ways of optimizing their clubs. According to Jeff Opheim of Callaway, staff players Annika Sorenstam, Julieta Granada and Morgan Pressel all check their numbers on a launch monitor at least once every two months.
"Technology is a part of the reason," said USGA set-up man Mike Davis, explaining the added yardage. "But remember this year's event was a month later than it was in 2001." That means North Carolina's sticky rye grass had been phased out and quicker rolling Bermuda took its place. "We set up the holes one by one without a total course yardage in mind," said Davis. "We simply wanted the women to play the holes the way designer Donald Ross intended."
Even if the clubs they used to do so were a lot different.
THE BAG ROOM
Equipment scoop from the tours
Cristie Kerr won her first major title at the U.S. Women's Open and part of the reason was a purchase Kerr recently made in Korea--a Ping Craz-E putter she bought in a pro shop. "I'll buy every putter if I putt that well with it," said Kerr after an opening-round 71, when she needed just 29 putts. --- Hard to believe, but Lorena Ochoa never had an equipment deal until last week when she signed a multiyear pact with Ping. Ochoa has used Ping woods and irons since college and added the hybrids this year. A Ping putter will be in the bag by 2008. Ochoa's deal calls for her clubs to be housed in a Ping staff bag, but one didn't arrive until after she played her opening round. The reason: The white bag was in China two days before, being embroidered with both her name and the logo of one of her other sponsors, AeroMexico. --- Somewhat less attention was given to Brittany Lincicome's new deal with Etonic. Lincicome wore the company's shoes at Pine Needles and will be involved in developing a new line of footwear. "They make some really cool-looking stuff," said Lincicome. "I think we can come up with shoes that are even more fun."