Toronto Star

Double the challenge at U.S. Women’s Open

Pandemic year’s final major is forced to use two courses for safety


HOUSTON— Inbee Park tries to stick to a routine at the U.S. Women’s Open to make sure she’s not worn out before the tournament begins. A two-time champion, she prefers to play no more than nine holes in each of the three practice rounds. This year didn’t allow for that. The USGA for the first time is using two courses for the first 36 holes, the only way it could keep a full field at Champions Golf Club in a pandemic year that already has eliminated qualifying stages.

For the players, that means getting to know the Jackrabbit and Cypress Creek courses, cramming in as much as they can before Texas native Angela Stanford hits the opening tee shot Thursday.

“U.S. Women’s Open golf courses are tough to learn one, but trying to learn two tough courses is definitely a big task for everyone this week,” Park said Wednesday. “It’s just a busy three days that we have to spend before the tournament starts.

“I rarely play 18-hole practice rounds before the tournament starts because we play 18 holes Thursday through Sunday, and I usually do nine. But I had to play 18 yesterday. I was going to play 18 twice, but my body was just too tired,” she said. “I decided nine, 18, nine. That will be enough.”

These are not complaints. The

156 players at Champions are happy to be playing, no matter how different everything feels, from the two golf courses to the time of the year. Park returned to South Korea for seven weeks and said it felt like the off-season, and now the women have the $5.5-million U.S. Women’s Open and the $5-million CME Group Tour Championsh­ip in consecutiv­e weeks.

The Women’s Open was supposed to be the first week in June until the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the LPGA Tour for more than five months. The best option was two weeks before Christmas, making this the final major of the year.

The USGA came up with an all-exempt field to mirror what it typically would get with qualifying, just as it did for the men’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot in September. Given the limited daylight hours, it was fortunate to be at prestigiou­s Champions Golf Club, which was establishe­d by Jack Burke Jr. and Jimmy Demaret and previously hosted a Ryder Cup, U.S. Open and the Tour Championsh­ip.

Cypress Creek, which will be used for the weekend, is notable for its big greens, the largest Park has seen since St. Andrews. It plays at 6,731 yards for apar 71, a strong test. Jackrabbit is at 6,558 yards with a pair of par 5s longer than 520 yards.

 ??  ?? Inbee Park returned to South Korea for seven weeks and said it felt like off-season.
Inbee Park returned to South Korea for seven weeks and said it felt like off-season.

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