Archive for Thursday, July 6, 2006

Fickle winds make Prairie Dunes difficult course to dissect

July 6, 2006

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— It's bad enough when the prevailing southwesterly winds play havoc with drives into the narrow fairways and iron shots onto the tricky greens of Prairie Dunes.

On days like that, "the Dunes," as locals lovingly refer to it, can be one of the toughest courses in the country as well as one of the prettiest.

But these past few days the capricious Kansas winds have seemed to blow in every direction, and that is unusual.

It's almost as if they knew the course was swarming with savvy over-50 golfers straining to acquaint themselves with the historic layout's subtle nuances in time for today's opening round of the U.S. Senior Open.

Men like Fred Funk, Jay Haas and Tom Watson have been working hard to get to know Prairie Dunes. But the par-70, 6,646-yard layout with its thick rough and roly-poly greens may still act like a quarrelsome stranger.

"We have an unusual wind with the north and northeast wind today," Watson said after completing a tuneup round on Wednesday. "And tomorrow's supposed to come from the southeast where it was on Monday, and somewhat on Tuesday.

Tom Watson watches his tee shot on the 17th hole during a practice round for the U.S. Senior Open Championship at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson. Watson and the rest of the field got one final look at the course Wednesday in preparation for the 72-hole tournament that tees off today.

Tom Watson watches his tee shot on the 17th hole during a practice round for the U.S. Senior Open Championship at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson. Watson and the rest of the field got one final look at the course Wednesday in preparation for the 72-hole tournament that tees off today.

"So we haven't seen any of the winds from the west, the southwest, where they normally kind of blow this time of year. It ought to be a pretty new golf course as the week progresses."

If the winds roar the way they often do on the Central Plains in midsummer, scores may not even approach the closing-round 63 which Allen Doyle shot to win this event last year in Ohio.

"If the wind blows, these fairways are going to get even harder to hit," said Doyle. "If the wind blows, we will have trouble scoring out here. I was fortunate to play in the U.S. Open this year and I'm not so sure (the rough) isn't worse than the U.S. Open. The key is going to be to stay out of the rough."

Dana Quigley, fresh off a 9-under-par 63 to win last week's Greater Kansas City Golf Classic, figures the man who hits the most fairways could well end up cashing first-place money.

"I don't think it's going to yield a lot of birdies unless we get calm days," Quigley said. "That doesn't happen here either. So you've got to kind of wake up tomorrow morning and see what the conditions are, and then you kind of put your game plan according to that, I think."

Making his debut on the Champions Tour will be Funk, who still plans to compete on the regular PGA tour as well. Known as one of the game's most accurate drivers, Funk could be the man to beat in this 27th staging of the U.S. Senior Open.

Like almost everyone else in the field, Funk got his first look at Prairie Dunes this week.

"I didn't expect the golf course to be set up quite as difficult as far as the rough," he said. "You just can't hit out of it."

The Prairie Dunes greens are among the most undulating the golfers will see all year. They're also small, averaging 4,200 square feet as compared with the Champions Tour average of 6,000.

And on some holes, the rough is thick and high just a few feet off the putting surface.

"The premium will be on keeping the ball in play, and I think the golf course is truly going to identify the guy that's playing the best golf this week," Funk said. "If you're playing well, you're going to get rewarded.

"And if you're not, you're going to see, especially if the wind blows, you're going to see some really high scores."

The tournament is projected to be a big success at the gate, with about 130,000 people expected for the four-day event that wraps up on Sunday.

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