Saturday Notebook: Grounds Crew Works Overtime To Get Oakmont Playable July 9, 2010 By David Shefter, USGA

Oakmont, Pa. – John Zimmers walked into the media center adjacent to the first tee at Oakmont Country Club Saturday morning looking like he just pulled an all-nighter to prepare for a college final exam.

In a way, Oakmont’s 39-year-old superintendent had been through a cram session. But the exam was for the best female golfers in the world.

A violent thunderstorm Friday afternoon dropped two inches of rain on the property, suspending play at the 65th U.S. Women’s Open and leaving a Herculean task for Zimmers and his maintenance crew.

I don’t even know what day it is, said Zimmers after spending the wee hours of Saturday morning overseeing a cleanup effort to get Oakmont ready for the resumption of round two at 7:30 a.m. EDT. I think I got an hour and a half [of sleep].

Zimmers’ regular staff of 40, plus some 75-80 volunteers who have come from as far away as Japan to assist at the Women’s Open this week, started getting bunkers back in shape at 12:45 a.m. By 4 a.m., the crew was ready to resume its normal maintenance practice of mowing greens, tees and fairways.

I’m not sure they all knew what they signed up for this week, said Zimmers of the volunteers who endured scorching heat and humidity early in the week before the torrential rains on Friday. This has been pretty difficult because early in the week the heat was so bad. But I would much rather have dry and heat than rain like that. It’s a lot of work. It takes you a long time to get the golf course back the way you want it.

By 7:30 a.m., golfers were playing again on a course that was a little softer but still challenging.

We did it, said Zimmers, who sent his crew home for a brief morning snooze. It’s playable and I think [USGA senior director of Rules and Competitions] Mike [Davis] is happy. That’s all that counts in my book now.

Zimmers, who has been at Oakmont since 1999 and overseen two previous USGA championships at the venerable Henry Fownes design, still had a big day ahead of him. After getting some brief rest on property Saturday morning, he had to prepare for the process of cutting holes for the third round that was rescheduled to begin in the afternoon.

I can honestly tell you I’ve never been through anything like I have been through this week, said Zimmers, who worked at Congressional Country Club for the 1995 U.S. Senior Open and 1997 U.S. Open, as well as at Riviera Country Club for the 1998 Senior Open before taking the Oakmont job. Hopefully now the sun is here and we can finish this thing [on time Sunday afternoon].

Costly Bathroom Break

Lisa McCloskey, runner-up in last month's U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship, made the cut in her first appearance in the U.S. Women's Open, but it was not without its travails.

The 18-year-old junior-to-be at the University of Southern California, made a 4-foot birdie putt on her final hole of the second round, the par-5 ninth, for a 6-over-par 77, completing 36 holes at Oakmont Country Club in 8-over 150.

Not bad considering she incurred a two-shot penalty after her caddie, Lance Kraus, accepted a ride in a cart to use the restroom on the 16th hole so that he wouldn't hold up play. That is a breach of a Condition of the Competition covered in Appendix I of the Rules of Golf.

"That was tough, to get a two-shot penalty for something I wasn't even aware of," said McCloskey, who found out about the penalty as she made the turn onto the first nine. 

A similar incident occurred to McCloskey during the Texas high school girls’ state championship when she got a ride from her coach midway through the round for a restroom break. She ended up winning her second straight title despite a penalty.

Speed Demons

Pace of play has been an issue at Oakmont all week, and Saturday's third round was no different.

At 2:35 p.m. EDT South African amateur Kelli Shean was announced on the first tee, in the first of 11 groups starting on the outward nine.

The groupings were set at 11-minute intervals, with the final threesome of co-leaders Sakura Yokomine and Paula Creamer, and Cristie Kerr (one stroke back), scheduled for 4:25 p.m.

When Natalie Gulbis teed off in the ninth first-nine grouping, introductions were already 10 minutes behind.

This isn’t a good sign is it, Wendy? Gulbis asked fellow competitor Wendy Ward rhetorically as they waited for the fairway to clear. I think we’ll get to the 16th [before play is called for the day].

When Kerr, the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open champion, was finally announced, the Rolex starting clock at the first tee read 4:53 – 28 minutes late.

Eleven minutes later, over on the ninth green, Shean tapped in for a bogey-6. The group made the turn in 2 hours, 19 minutes, setting a pace for a 4-hour, 38-minute round – just four minutes more than Mike Davis, USGA senior director for Rules and Competitions, said a round should take this week. 

Timely Eagle

Any eagle is worth celebrating, but getting one to make the cut is even sweeter. Brittany Lincicome, the 2009 Kraft Nabisco champion, was sitting one stroke behind the cutline when she posted a three at the par-5 ninth hole to go from 11 over to nine over.

Amateur Update

A total of six amateurs made the 36-hole cut, including 16-year-old Tiffany Lim from San Jose, Calif. Ironically, she is not the youngest player left in the field. That distinction belongs to 15-year-old Alexis Thompson, who turned pro three weeks ago following the Curtis Cup Match, where she posted a 4-0-1 record in the USA’s five-point win.

Heading Back To South Africa

Kelli Shean, who made headlines Thursday with her 1-under 70, said Saturday that she won’t compete in next month’s U.S. Women’s Amateur at Charlotte (N.C.) Country Club. Because of her student visa, she has to fly home to South Africa in August before returning to the University of Arkansas for the fall semester.

I want to play in the Women’s World Amateur in Argentina, so I have to fly home in August, said Shean, who helped South Africa win the 2006 Espirito Trophy in her home country. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to get back in [the U.S.] after the World Am.

Shean, who is exempt for the Women’s Amateur by qualifying for the Women’s Open, visited the media center Saturday before the third round to gather newspaper clippings for her scrapbook. After this week, she should have quite a collection.

David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at dshefter@usga.org. Freelance writers Dave Shedloski and Stuart Hall also contributed to this notebook.