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Archive for Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Keegan: Golf’s busiest worker

June 11, 2008

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Make it mean and make it merciless. Give it venomous fangs and lethal claws. Make it a long, slow torturous journey. But whatever you do, for gosh sakes do not dare make it in any way unfair.

Such are the marching orders for any person charged with getting a golf course ready for the U.S. Open.

This year, that awesome responsibility belonged to soon-to-be Lawrence resident Mark Woodward. His tenure as golf operations manager for the city of San Diego comes to a close with the playing of the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, which will open Thursday.

He begins his new role as chief executive officer of Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, located in Lawrence, on July 1.

I reached Woodward at his cell phone number recently and asked him if he had a few minutes. He was in the middle of a meeting and asked if I could call back later. We agreed on a time of 11 p.m. At that time, he was tied up going over last-minute instructions with tournament volunteers. We rescheduled for the following morning, and Woodward, between meetings, had a few minutes. It's been that hectic for quite some time for Woodward.

Preparing a golf course for a major tournament, particularly one that places such a premium on "tough but fair," is an all-consuming task.

Woodward, 55, said his handicap index is "either 9.4 or 9.5."

Has he played Torrey Pines since it has been groomed to challenge the world's best golfers on the ultimate stage?

"Absolutely not," he said. "I have not played it for several reasons. I've been too busy preparing. I don't have time to get on it and play for four hours. I played it in December of '07, but it was nowhere near U.S. Open. I probably won't get to experience it. My staff and I kept threatening to play it."

Just as well he won't, Woodward said.

"Too grueling," he said.

He said for a player of his caliber, the changes to the course to make it U.S. Open-tough would add, "at least a stroke a hole, if not more. No doubt in my mind."

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who boats a 2.2 index, fired a 13-over-par 84 last week, playing with annoying pop star Justin Timberlake, a 6-handicap golfer and a lousy singer. Timberlake, who can and undoubtedly does boast that he used to date Cameron Diaz, won't be bragging about his score at Torrey Pines. He fired a 98.

Woodward sounded confident the course would be well received. Through Mike Davis, senior director of rules and competitions for the USGA, Woodward received the feedback of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson after they played practice rounds.

"They told Mike they liked the way it played," Woodward said. "Even Tiger commented to Mike that the course is the best he's seen it. He said it was fair yet challenging. I'm hearing a lot of good things right now, but you know what, in any tournament, when you make conditions like they are now, you're going to hear from somebody about something."

No matter how tough the course, in the end somebody will have to occupy the top of the leader board. And the winner is ... Mickelson.

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