BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA | “Right now the answer is yes. We do feel we will be on time in the morning without any more rain.”
Those were the encouraging elocutions Darin Bevard, the USGA director of championship agronomy, made late on Wednesday afternoon after Shoal Creek, the site of this week’s U.S. Women’s Open, finally opened for practice-round play.
As of 5 p.m. CDT the day before the first shots of the championship, a good chunk of players had not played a practice round. The number is unknown because the USGA did not keep record of who went out on Monday. But those who arrived in Birmingham at mid-afternoon on Monday (the time when thunder booms from Tropical Depression Alberto rumbled through the valley) and who had late times scheduled on Wednesday will not have played a single hole.
“I feel fortunate to have seen it on Monday,” Karrie Webb, who is playing on a special exemption, said Wednesday afternoon. “I think anyone who is unfortunate enough not to get to see it, you hope you’ve got a good caddie and they have been able to walk the course at least. Our yardage books and greens books and everything we have these days are so much better than 23 years ago when I first played my first U.S. (Women’s) Open. Sometimes you can play courses without having seen them. The only saving grace for those players is that it’s going to be soft. So you are not going to have to worry about landing it 30 feet left of the hole to get it to funnel and release into where the pin is as much as you normally would.”
Soft is an understatement. At 4 p.m. Wednesday, about 70 percent of the golf course would have qualified as casual water. Some of the low-lying areas had water flowing like streams.
When asked about the conditions, John Bodenhamer, the USGA director of competitions and governance, said, “It is wet. It continues to be very wet. But as I said, it is drying. We need this weather to keep going (our way). We have folks out on our staff watching play. We are evaluating the golf course both from a playability standpoint, how we mark ground under repair, how we set up the golf course.
“I’d say from what we saw in the landing areas, there were places where players could take relief and play golf under the rules, using the casual water rule and so on. And with this type of weather, it will only get better.”
The forecast for Thursday is mostly cloudy, with a 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms, according to the National Weather Service. The first tee time is 6:40 a.m.