John Huggan: ‘Graduated rough’ will make it fairer off the fairway
THE USGA has at last recognised that women can’t power out of the long grass as well as their male counterparts, and that should make for better tournaments, argues Catriona Matthew
“I was really looking forward to seeing and playing such a historic venue,” says Matthew with an audible sigh. “But they made it almost impossible to play. It was like having red stakes [marking a hazard] on either side of the fairways. If you missed by even a few inches, you had to chip out. Every time it was, in effect, a one-shot penalty. I, like many others, ended up ‘poking’ 4-irons off the tee and leaving myself mid- to long irons to the green. It wasn’t any fun. And, I don’t think, a great test of golf.”
That has long been the main criticism of both US Opens, of course. And, judging by the pedestrian plodding on show at the Olympic Club two weeks ago, nothing much has really changed despite flickering signs that Mike Davis, executive director of the United States Golf Association, was attempting to bring the championships out of the darkness described by Matthew over the past few years. Certainly, back in 1998, when the women last visited this week’s venue, Blackwolf Run in Wisconsin, the scoring alone suggests a similarly boring slog. South Korea’s Se Ri Pak won with a score of 290, six over par.
“Things have improved a lot since then,” acknowledges Matthew, the 26th-best woman golfer on the planet according to the rankings. “Since Mike arrived, he has tried to introduce the ‘graduated rough’, just as he seemed to be doing in the men’s event. I like that. Logic says that the wider you hit off the tee, the more you should be punished. I like the inherent fairness of that.
“The last few Opens have been pretty fair. Getting the rough right is so important for us. Even at the top level, the biggest difference between men and women is the ability to hit the ball out of long grass. We simply don’t have the strength in our forearms that the men enjoy. So playing from thick rough is more difficult. It has nothing to do with technique, of course, it comes down to sheer strength – or lack of it.”
For that simple reason, it is easy to make a course difficult for women. And as recently as last month, the LPGA Championship yielded to that unthinking temptation.
“The rough was supposed to be three inches long, but it looked more like five inches to me,” says Matthew. “Maybe a strong man could have moved his ball somewhere close to the green, but we couldn’t. Every time I missed a fairway, even by a little, I was reaching for my sand wedge and pitching back into play. It wasn’t much fun to play and I’m sure it was the same for the spectators.
“That strength factor is one reason why we play a different game from the men. We hit more fairways than they do simply because we have to. There is no one on the LPGA Tour playing what the men call ‘bomb and gouge’, where they simply hit the ball as far as they can off the tee without really caring where it finishes up. If there is any kind of rough at all, we just have to be accurate if we want to score well.”
Strangely, the ultra-steady Matthew’s record in 15 appearances at the biggest event in women’s golf is mildly disappointing. In the sort of tough and demanding environment where one would expect her to thrive, she has mustered only two top-ten finishes. What she has been, however, is typically consistent. Eight times she has finished between 16th and 27th. Only twice has she missed the cut.
“What I do like about the US Open – male or female version – is that scoring is difficult,” says the 2009 British Ladies Open champion. “It’s never a birdie-fest. I like that as it suits my game. I like it when par is a good score. That’s my kind of golf, more than making eight birdies a round. Having said that, my driving has let me down a little over the years in this event. But that part of my game has been much better this year, so I’m hopeful of doing well. At the end of the day, it’s all about driving and putting. Do both well and you’ll be up there somewhere with a chance to win.”
To have an opportunity to double her major championship tally, Matthew will surely have to up her game from where it has laboured so far in 2012. One top-ten finish in eight appearances that have yielded $110,815 from an admittedly sporadic LPGA Tour schedule isn’t quite what we’ve come to expect from the six-times Solheim Cup player. Juggling a career and two small children and husband/caddie Graeme – is clearly no easy matter.
“I’ve been steady enough this year,” she shrugs. “But I’m in one of those phases where I feel like I’m playing better than my scores indicate. I know that sounds a bit odd, but I really feel like I’m hitting the ball well. I just haven’t been making enough birdie putts when I have given myself chances. Throw in a couple of mistakes and I’ve been trying too hard to make those birdie putts when they do come along. I need to relax and get on with it really.
“I hit the ball really solidly at the LPGA Championship last month. But the story of my week was a mixture of missed putts and one or two daft mistakes. One day I’d play well and shoot, say, two over par. Then the next day I’d play worse and be even for the round. It’s close though. I feel like a really good week isn’t far away.
“My swing is as good as it has ever been. I know and understand it better too. The changes I’ve made over the last two years are pretty well ingrained. So any work I do now is really maintenance. I’m certainly a lot more consistent. My bad shot used to be a hook, but now it’s sort of slightly thin and still pretty straight. That gets me into a lot less trouble, even if it doesn’t go as far.”
As for the prime candidates to succeed last year’s champion, So Yeon Ryu of South Korea, Matthew lists “the usual suspects.” Past champions Paula Creamer and Cristie Kerr both own the sorts of accurate games designed to do well in what will be a pressure-packed four days of grim competition. So do two other Americans in the shape of Morgan Pressel and Stacy Lewis. But four winners from the Far East in the last seven years tells its own story of women’s professional golf early in the 21st century. When the US Women’s Open gets “rough,” the Orientals tend to get going.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 10 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east