US Women’s Open field battling wet conditions, each other
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Inbee Park’s 12th U.S. Women’s Open already stands out for a gloomy reason: the rain-soaked course at Shoal Creek.
The picturesque course in suburban Birmingham had been drenched by nearly five inches of rain this week as of Wednesday afternoon, with the effects of Subtropical Storm Alberto adding onto earlier rains.
“This is probably the wettest conditions I have ever seen in a U.S. Women’s Open,” said Park, a Korean who won in 2008 and 2013. “We just don’t know what’s going to happen.
“Coming into the U.S. Women’s Open, I always try to play the ball with the mud or try to play with like a wet ground condition because we’ve never played lift, clean and place. We just play from wherever it is and however the condition is.”
Practice rounds were canceled Tuesday and the course closed, other than some late-afternoon trips to the driving range. More rain followed overnight and into Wednesday on the eve of the major championship , when the course finally reopened by early afternoon in time for some of the 156 players to get in practice.
The field will be cut to the low 60 scorers and ties after two rounds.
John Bodenhamer, USGA’s senior managing director, said officials didn’t plan to use lift, clean and place for the first time in one of the organization’s championships.
“It remains our intention to play 72 holes and play the ball as it lies,” Bodenhamer said Wednesday.
The LPGA Tour’s Kingsmill Championship two weeks ago was shortened to 54 holes because of rain. The field, which includes 10 past Open champions, arrived in Alabama hoping to avoid a similar fate.
Pernilla Lindberg won the year’s first major at the ANA Inspiration, the 11th consecutive women’s major with a different winner.
The LPGA Tour has not had a multiple winner through 13 tournaments this season.
Korean Sung Hyun Park won last year at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, by two strokes over amateur Hye-Jin Choi.
Some players, including Inbee Park, Karrie Webb and No. 3-ranked Lexi Thompson, got a full 18 holes in Monday.
Thompson said some parts of fairways were “a little muddy and a little patchy.” After that experience, she was hoping to play under lift, clean and place rules.
“I think it will be a little unfair if they don’t, but you never know,” she said. “I mean if they don’t, everybody has to play it down and it is what it is, but it’s their choice. The rain has not helped that situation, so I guess come Thursday we’ll see, though.”
This will be the third USGA championship at Shoal Creek but the first Women’s Open. Buddy Alexander won the 1986 U.S. Amateur and Cameron Peck won the 2008 U.S. Junior.
Shoal Creek also hosted the PGA Championship in 1984 and 1990, when the club drew criticism for not having black members. That led the PGA Tour to change its policy on going to courses that didn’t allow minority members.
The Regions Tradition, a PGA Tour Champions major, was held at Shoal Creek from 2011-2015.
This time the primary concern is the weather and course conditions.
Webb, who won back-to-back championships in 2000 and 2001, is playing in her 23rd consecutive Women’s Open. She got a special exemption from the USGA.
“It’ll be the softest U.S. Open course I’ve played,” Webb said.
The conditions could potentially help long hitters like Thompson and Sung Hyun Park. But distance, of course, isn’t the only important factor.
“I think it could set up for anyone that’s just hitting lots of fairways and greens,” Webb said.
Some players were fine with the unscheduled downtime of canceled practice rounds. Two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Danielle Kang played only the back nine on Monday and her scheduled practice round for Wednesday was pushed back too late to get it in, barring an earlier slot opening.
A friend, PGA Tour player and Birmingham native Trey Mullinax, gave her a rundown of the course over the phone.
Otherwise, Kang took advantage of the free time by seeing the movie “Solo,” then sleeping until 10 a.m. Wednesday, enjoying brunch and not sweating the minimal practice time at Shoal Creek.
“I feel more prepared than ever,” Kang said. “That’s why I think I’m so kind of relaxed about it.”
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