The Loop

Sleep tight, the first tee awaits

August 01, 2007

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland - Wonder how Nikki Garrett (right) is going to sleep Wednesday night?  At 6:30 a.m. Thursday morning she will become the first female ever to drive off the first tee of the Old Course in a woman's professional golf tournament. The young Australian is paired with Dina Ammaccapane of the United States and Korean Hye Yong Choi. Unlike just about every other tournament, including the men's and women's U.S. Open, the British Open sticks with tradition and does not use two tees. That means the tee times range from 6:30 a.m. (St. Andrews time) until group No. 50 in the 150-woman field tees it up at 3:39 p.m. -- or 15:49, as they say here. That group will consist of Sophie Walker of England, Korean Sung ah Yim and Leta Lindley of the United States. They'll have plenty of time to sleep.

Among the more interesting threesomes: Michelle Wie goes out with Grace Park and Beth Daniel at 7:25; Annika Sorenstam is with Morgan Pressel and South African teen sensation Ashleigh Simon at 11:37, followed by Juli Inkster, Karrie Webb and Laura Davies at 11:48. Paula Creamer goes at 6:52 with Se Ri Pak and Momoko Ueda; Lorena Ochoa is out next with Sakura Yokomine and Karen Stupples at 7:03, followed by Cristie Kerr, Ai Miyazato and Natalie Gulbis at 7:14.

Speaking of sleeping, some players and the entire LPGA staff here had their sleep disrupted Tuesday night when the fire alarm at Rusacks Hotel went off at 3 a.m., rousting them out onto the street. Officials at one point were considering sheltering everyone in the media center at the course, much to the chagrin of the LPGA media staff, which spends way too much time there anyway. Among the players staying at Rusacks is defending Women's British Open champion Sherri Steinhauer, who fled into the night with one possession -- her yardage book. "I couldn't leave this behind," she said. "We put too much work into it." Turns out there was a small electrical fire that was quickly extinguished. Left unnamed will be the players who were still in the hotel bar when the alarm went off.

Because of an accounting error by LPGA officials, about a half-dozen players were told they had qualified for the Ricoh Women's British Open when they hadn't. Qualifying spots off the LPGA money list were frozen after the U.S. Women's Open and at that time the tour miscalculated and said players as far down as No. 92 on the list were going to make it into the field. In fact, the cut off was at No. 77. What that meant was that about a half-dozen players booked non-refundable airline tickets to Scotland. Among them were Dina Ammaccapane, who gained her way into the field through a local qualifier anyway, and Jill McGill, who didn't qualify. "It's very frustrating to be given incorrect information," McGill said, "but I did have a chance in qualifying and just didn't play well enough." McGill is spending the week enjoying the sights of Scotland.

This is a bittersweet week for Sir Richard George, the former chairman of Weetbix, the former sponsor of the Ricoh Women's British Open. Sir Richard, a very passionate golfer who now lives part of the year near at Mission Hills, Calif., home of the Kraft Nabisco Championship, worked extremely hard to help the Women's British Open become an LPGA major and then worked equally hard to get the event played on the Old Course. He is here this week in an unofficial capacity. "There is no way I could miss this," Sir Richard said. When I introduced him to a friend as the man who made it possible for the women to play at St. Andrews, Sir Richard replied: "Yes, I did, didn't I." And he was absolutely correct. Every story has hidden heroes and Sir Richard is the one behind the first Women's British Open at St. Andrews.

Unlike the U.S. Women's Open -- and any of the men's major championships -- the Women's British Open has a pro-am. While it generates revenue though the thousands of dollars paid by each amateur  --  mostly corporate dollars  --  to participate, basically it denies the players a day of practice. The players in the pro-am do get to play the course, but doing it with three amateurs in tow does not exactly create the perfect learning situation for picking apart a course as intricate as St. Andrews. Those women who are not in the pro-am do not have access to the Old Course until after 2 p.m. The LPGA always has spots in the pro-am and those become nice perks for tour officials. But because this event is at St. Andrews the rank-and-file got big-footed by some LPGA board members who made the trip and got spots in the pro-am. The Women's British Open has grown enormously in prestige, but the next growth step it needs to take is to abandon the pro-am and allow the players the extra day to practice on the tournament course. At least it's not the Kraft Nabisco Championship where the players have to deal with two pro-ams.

--Ron Sirak

(Photo: Mark Nolan/Getty Images)