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Archive for Sunday, June 9, 2002

U. S. Open to be on public course

Owned by taxpayers, Bethpage State Park to play host to Tiger Woods this week

June 9, 2002

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— If not for a public golf course on Long Island, the game might be missing Tiger Woods.

Earl Woods was in the twilight of his military career at Fort Hamilton when a staff officer suggested he try golf.

They went to nearby Dyker Beach, where the father of golf's best player was introduced to the game.

"I got hooked the very first day," Earl Woods said.

He passed on that passion to his son, who likewise honed his game on public golf courses in southern California.

The heritage of Woods' golf comes full circle at the 102nd U.S. Open, which will be played for the first time at a public course on Long Island, no less.

Bethpage State Park is owned by the taxpayers and open to all for just $39 on the weekend, quite a change from the snooty country clubs that have come to symbolize professional golf.

No wonder they call this championship the "People's Open."

"The U.S. Open is supposed to be open to everybody, and it should be played on a public golf course," Woods said. "I think that's absolutely wonderful."

The good news for the players: They won't have to sleep in their cars, which is what everyday people do to secure a tee time on the Black Course.

"None of our guys would sleep in a car," Brad Faxon said. "Nobody can relate to that."

No, but many of the 50,000 fans will be able to relate to this U.S. Open course that will test the world's best players over 72 holes. The tourney will begin Thursday.

"At places like Augusta, all they can do is watch and wonder what it's like to play," two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen said. "I'm sure there will be a lot of guys who go, 'I was in that bunker, Tiger, and I made 9."'

The most famous landmark on the course is a sign posted by the first tee that says, "Warning: The Black Course is an extremely difficult course which is recommended only for highly skilled golfers."

Just how difficult it is for these "highly skilled" golfers remains to be seen.

The Black Course will play as a par 70 at 7,214 yards, the longest in U.S. Open history by one yard over Congressional in 1997. Its 70 bunkers are so expansive that it required about 9,000 tons of sand to fill them. The fairways will be pinched to about 25 yards, framed by ankle-deep rough.

The greens, however, are relatively flat, leading some to believe that without windy, brittle conditions on Long Island, the U.S. Open scoring record of 272 (last set by Woods at Pebble Beach) is in danger.

"You're not going to see a lot of train wrecks," USGA executive director David Fay said. "There's a good possibility of low scores."

The U.S. Open is widely regarded as the toughest test in golf, and for good reason. No other tournament puts such a premium on par. Only 12 players have finished a U.S. Open under par dating to 1995, the last time it was held on Long Island.

"The U.S. Open is more than just a golf tournament," Davis Love III said. "It's a test of mettle, your patience, your guts. If the scoring is easy, it would be like any other week. But the U.S. Open is a test of everything you've got. That's why it's hard to win, and why we want to win so bad."

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