WILLIAMSBURG — United States Golf Association suits are either marketing geniuses or delusional mad scientists. We'll know which in about a month, when their grand experiment produces either unprecedented exposure for their signature championships or an embarrassing implosion that spoils the most important tournament in the women's game.
Pinehurst No. 2 in the North Carolina sandhills is revered by legions, most notably Jack Nicklaus, and the USGA is staging the U.S. Open there June 12-15, followed by the U.S. Women's Open June 19-22.
Two tournaments, major championships no less, back-to-back on the same layout. Unprecedented, intriguing and oh, so risky.
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Kingsmill on the James, Williamsburg
And naturally, the women face the most risk by playing second. No way the USGA would have chanced the wrath of the more powerful PGA Tour by having the men follow the women.
What if weather and the first week's competition chew up Donald Ross' most renowned design? What of the logistics if the opening tournament requires a Monday playoff?
Yet while acknowledging the potential hazards, players at the LPGA's Kingsmill Championship this weekend are eager to test themselves on a course that's hosted two previous U.S. Opens, a Ryder Cup and PGA Championship. Moreover, they welcome what figures to be an exponential bump in attention from not only golf mavens but also casual fans.
"I totally see what (USGA officials) want to get out of it," Pettersen said. "Obviously you can see it's a huge cost savings for their sake. I think it's great to get tested on the same course that the guys have just played. I think that's a great kind of challenge. And they want the course to play the same (as for the men), and they want us to hit kind of the same irons."
No question staging both Opens at one location spares not only the USGA but also television partner NBC the expense of traveling to another venue. And the novelty of the world's best golfers challenging a storied course in consecutive weeks should drive ratings and attendance, especially for the women, who have played three Opens in the region at Pine Needles, most recently in 2007.
Sure, the men's tees will be farther back, about 900 yards total, and their greens will be a tick faster. But if both fields are hitting similar irons into the same crowned greens, it will be fascinating to see how Inbee Park's scores compare to Jordan Spieth's.
With the LPGA Tour idle that week, Lexi Thompson plans to attend the men's Open, an event for which her brothers, pro Nicholas and amateur Curtis, are attempting to qualify.
"I'll just get a look at it and see how the guys are playing it also," Thompson said. "I think that'll be huge to see how they hit it. I guess they're domed greens (at Pinehurst No. 2), so I'll get to see if they like bump chips or if they land them on. I think I can learn a lot from the guys that weekend and then do my normal practice round. Just take a lot of time on the greens. Usually in Opens, it's all about short game."
Hosting the men and women on a course with traditional Open-style rough would have been problematic at best, but Ben Crenshaw's recent remake of No. 2 replaced the rough with hardpan sand. Add the shaved collection areas beyond the greens, and you have a truly unique test.
Pettersen has yet to play No. 2, but she consulted with her buddy Tiger Woods — at the 1999 and 2005 Opens there, he tied for third and finished second — and is practicing accordingly at her home club in Orlando, Fla.
"If you go back to Bay Hill and ask the superintendent how the greens look, I don't think they look too good because I've been chipping off the putting greens to prepare myself (for the Open)," Pettersen said. "There are a few divots right on the practice greens in Bay Hill that I been trying to cover. I have been filling in sand."
So what's not to like about the USGA's plan? Two words: Mother Nature.
Neither torrential rain nor searing heat would be unusual at Pinehurst next month.
"It remains to be seen how well the course holds up," Pettersen said. "You would think for a men's U.S. Open, by the time Sunday comes around the course is — I mean, we've seen it before. It would be on the borderline of unplayable at times. The weather, if it's steaming hot and you don't get the rain, it would be roasted out there."
Which would be a disservice to the women.
"I don't have any (preconceived notions)," said Creamer, the 2010 Women's Open champion. "I think it would be kind of wrong to do that, because we don't know what to expect. … I wish we were playing first."
Said Lewis: "There are things we like and don't like about it. Look at the exposure we'll get from being behind the men and people talking about it. … I'm really interested to see how it all turns out. I think logistically it could be a mess, depending on what happens."
For a more enthusiastic, youthful perspective, let's turn to Lydia Ko, the 17-year-old who's already won three LPGA tournaments — two as an amateur! — and is ranked third in the world. She went to Pinehurst earlier this month to inspect No. 2.
"I think it's going to be really cool," Ko said. "Obviously, there will be a lot of spectators watching the men, so hopefully a lot of them can stay and watch the women as well. … When I (went), there were a lot of those … white tents for the VIPs and merchandise. So it's all … quite exciting that we've only got like a month or so until that time comes. …
"I'm really excited to have the men's in front, because I'm going to go there and watch them play a little bit and hopefully get some autographs."
If the men are smart, they'll get Ko's autograph as well.