USGA officials optimistic they'll get things started on time at Shoal Creek—and will play the ball down
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — If no more rain falls before Thursday morning, USGA officials says they'll be looking at a 72-hole U.S. Women's Open that's starting on time on Thursday, and the ball will be played as it lies. It was the first good news offered thus far this week as Shoal Creek has taken on a lot of water since Sunday—4.76 inches, to be exact. The soggy fairways and the muddy shoes of all who walk on the grounds are evidence of it.
But the sun was shining Wednesday afternoon, and there's the promise of 'normal' weather starting Thursday afternoon. (Normal weather here means heat, sun, and the chance of afternoon thunderstorms.) With the much-needed sunshine, the course has already started to dry, albeit slightly.
More importantly, players have been able to finally get on the course to see what it's made of.
After playing nine holes, Danielle Kang came into the press room. If everything starts on schedule on Thursday morning, she'll have yet to see the front nine before teeing it up in the most prestigious event in women's golf. She's one of several players in that position, which, to state the wildly obvious, it's not ideal. But Kang's confident, cavalier personality takes the situation in stride.
"Trey Mullinax walked me through the whole golf course from 1 to 18 on the phone," said Kang, referring to the PGA Tour pro and former University of Alabama golfer. "I feel like I've played it, you know? I have the yardage book. My caddie is stressed out. He hasn't walked it. I'm really OK."
"I did all the work I possibly could do," Kang continues. "My game feels really great. I like where I'm at mentally and physically and where my golf game is at. I feel more prepared than ever. That's why I think I'm so kind of relaxed about it."
Kang also points out that when it comes to set up, the USGA is capable of many surprises. She notes that you can feel like you know a course, and then be blindsided with the way it is set up.
John Bodenhamer, the Senior Managing Director of Championships and Governance at the USGA, said he has been out walking the course, determining its playability and speaking with players about the course's status. As for a few of the extremely wet areas, Bodenhamer says some of that can be avoided by how the course is set up. He also noted that the greens are in good shape. The sand underneath them has proven pivotal in drainage, plus the SubAir system can get them back to what the USGA officials were originally hoping for in short order.
As for talk of potentially playing lift, clean and place, Bodenhamer doesn't take his answers anywhere hypothetical. "It remains our intention to play 72 holes and to play the ball as it lies," Bodenhamer said. "If we get cooperation from weather, it will keep getting better every day."
Does everyone wish it was going to play firm and fast? Sure. It's the U.S. Women's Open. But the rain and changes in preparation are their own special kind of test for players, demanding a unique level of focus and grit.