Archive for Friday, June 14, 2002

Bethpage Black brutal for pros

Experienced golfers suffer horrifying first day at U.S. Open’s public course

June 14, 2002


— The ball was barely visible in the waves of tall, flowing fescue. Davis Love III whacked at it with all his might.

It traveled about 15 yards not even far enough to reach the 16th fairway. Next stop, double-bogey.

Then there was Justin Leonard, flailing helplessly with a wedge in the ankle-deep rough along the 12th green. The winner of the 1997 British Open managed to move his ball all of 6 feet with two swings, the grass gobbling it up each time.

When Leonard finally reached the green, he smiled and waved his arms to the gallery as if to say, "How 'bout some love?" Eventually, he steered his ball into the cup, signed for a triple-bogey and moved on.

Welcome to the U.S. Open at Bethpage State Park's Black Course, where horrors loomed at every turn during Thursday's opening round.

Keep the ball in the fairway or run the risk of turning into a helpless hacker. By all means, heed the sign which looms along the first tee. "Warning: The Black Course is an extremely difficult course which is recommended only for highly skilled golfers."

No kidding.

"I don't think any of us who missed a fairway had a good lie," said Love, who still managed a respectable 1-over 71. "It was just tough to hit every fairway today, and it's going to be tough like that all week."

A few days ago, he praised the U.S. Golf Association for bringing the Open to a true public course for the first time. Any second thoughts?

"This is a great golf course to get to play," Love groused, "and when they mow the rough, it'll be even better."

Of course, this is just what the USGA likes to hear. They strive every year to make America's national championship the toughest test in golf, which is usually apparent in the scores.

A year ago, only four players broke par at Southern Hills Country Club, which was more than 200 yards shorter than the Black Course.

Just six of 156 hit the red Thursday, with some truly dreadful golf turned in by one of the glamour threesomes. PGA Championship winner David Toms (74), British Open champion David Duval (78) and defending U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen (79) were a combined 21 over. Heck, Goosen couldn't even beat 16-year-old Derek Tolan, the youngest player in the field who had a 78.

New Jersey native Jim McGovern recalled playing Bethpage in 1988. He hardly recognized the place this time.

"It was baby teeth back then," said McGovern, who shot a 75. "Now it's like shark's teeth."

Stewart Cink was among those who didn't seem spooked by Bethpage. Of course, he was feeling pretty good with a 70.

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