PINEHURST — There was an unusual invasion at Pinehurst No. 2 Sunday afternoon.
As the leaders were preparing on the practice range for Sunday’s final round of the 114th U.S. Open, they were joined by players getting ready for their tournament next week — The U.S. Women’s Open.
Players like Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Martin Kaymer and Justin Rose were sharing the practice areas with Paula Cremer, Natalie Gulbis, Inbee Park and Lexi Thompson.
The scene was probably exactly what former USGA executive director David Fay had in mind when he decided to stage both championships at Pinehurst No. 2. It was like a passing of the torch from the men and the women.
It definitely created a stir with the fans. Not only were they talking about Kaymer and his huge lead but also trying to figure out who the next women’s star would be to hit shots on the range next to him.
Last week former LPGA golfer and current ESPN analyst Dottie Pepper admitted while it is not ideal to have the men’s and women’s tournaments contested at the same venue in back-to-back weeks, it was needed to generate some buzz.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to have the women’s Open being talked so feverishly and so often and early which is awesome,” Pepper said. “It hasn’t happen, so check mark in that box. But also to be able to compare apples to apples, oranges to oranges right after.”
That is one of the main things Fay wanted to do with this unprecedented double, showcase the women’s ability on the same course, set up the same way as what the men just faced the week before. The women have been tested U.S. Open venues before like Oakmont. Pepper believes the women walked away from that week proving they could hold their own.
Pepper feels the same will be said again after the championship at No. 2.
“I think what has happen when the U.S. Women’s Open went to Oakmont in 2010 and 1992, people walked away from them saying the girls really hit good shots and put up good scores,” she said. “They were in very much the same conditions, relative conditions. In fact when the girls went there in 2010 versus what Johnny Miller did when he went. The greens were 2 1/2 feet faster for the girls than when Johnny won (in 1973). When you think about the scores that were posted and just how good they were, I think there’s going to be a lot of people who have their eyes opened next week I really do.”
One of the biggest differences the women will see in the course from the men will be the conditions. This week’s forecast is calling for temperatures in the 90s and small chances for rain.
U.S. Open men’s champion Martin Kaymer said he was able to take advantage of the softer greens on Thursday and Friday. USGA officials elected to add water to the greens Thursday morning because an expected storm never developed Wednesday night. The rain did come Thursday night, dumping more than an inch in 30 minutes forcing the Pinehurst grounds crew to work overtime to get the course ready for play Friday.
How the course responds after the men’s championship and how it is set up will determine if the women’s winner will be able to match Kaymer’s dominance and ability to go low or if a score closer to even par will be enough.
Reach sports editor Shawn Stinson at 910-997-3111, ext. 14 or on Twitter @scgolfer.