Colorado Springs, Colo. – Stacy Lewis backed off a shot to give her caddie Travis Wilson a little time to recuperate.
Is it a little harder to run? she joked Monday on The Broadmoor driving range as Wilson, panting, returned from retrieving a device about 100 yards away.
Moments earlier, Lewis engaged a volunteer about the elevation. It is nice to see the ball go farther, she said, laughing.
At 6,230 feet, the altitude may bring some smiles this week. Long-ball hitters with high trajectory may be affected the most. Low-ball hitters probably won’t see much of a difference. Either way, there’s no doubting that the altitude will play a role on what is the longest layout in U.S. Women’s Open history. At 7,047 yards, the East Course surpasses Interlachen Country Club (6,789 yards in 2008) by 258 yards.
[The altitude] definitely affects club selection, said 2007 U.S. Women’s Open champion Cristie Kerr. You have to judge selection with your caddie. There’s a lot of altitude and the course will probably play closer to 6,500 yards, which is about right for an Open.
Lewis was on the driving range to get a feel for how far each iron will go. Same with the driver. She hit about two buckets of balls. After hitting about five balls, she consulted with Wilson to get a sense of the club she should hit. She hadn’t played the course yet, but wanted to be better prepared once she got out there.
It’s kind of a confidence boost to see the ball go farther, said Lewis, winner of this year’s first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, who also went 5-0-0 on the victorious 2008 USA Curtis Cup Team. But you have to be able to control it. That’s the key.
Two-time Women’s Open champion Juli Inkster won the last of her three consecutive U.S. Women’s Amateur titles in 1982 at The Broadmoor, which is located at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain.
[The altitude] matters a lot, she said. You have to figure out clubs out of the fairway, out of the rough, whether you’re going uphill or downhill. It’s a challenge.
What also matters is how a ball is hit. A low liner likely won’t be affected as much by the elevation. High, long-ball hitters such as 2005 U.S. Women’s Open runner-up Brittany Lang likely will see the most effect. As she concluded Monday’s practice round at the 18th hole, Lang didn’t sound too concerned about the course’s length. For her, the extra roll she got thanks to the firm conditions negated the course’s length.
She estimated that her ball traveled 10-12 percent more. She was able to hit a 9-iron for a 150-yard shot, where normally, her 9-iron carries approximately 135 yards. She usually averages 270 off the tee; on Monday she found balls were scooting about 290 yards with the driver.
A noted fitness buff, Lang found the biggest issue to be dehydration, as did Canadian amateur Brittany Marchand. She noted that staying hydrated may be more of a challenge than distance control throughout the week.
I’m finding it’s going to be tough to keep the energy up, said Marchand, a low-ball hitter, after finishing her practice regimen on the range.
Outside of the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, which is held in November at 5,138 feet in Guadalajara, Mexico, no other LPGA Tour event (27 in all) is played at more than 2,000 feet above sea level. That event has given players like Lang a frame of reference for shotmaking. Again, it’s the 10-12 percent rule. Get the ball up and watch it go.
USGA Executive Director Mike Davis, who is handling the Women’s Open setup along with the USGA’s Ben Kimball, had the altitude in mind when he decided to lengthen the course. When the 1995 Women’s Open was contested on the East Course, it played 6,398 yards.
Take No. 17, a 600-yard par 5, for instance. Long hitters theoretically should take advantage of the extra distance and roll to create a manageable approach shot. And if the tee markers are moved up for a given round of the championship, something Davis hinted at during media day last month, some players might be able to hit the green in two.
Davis added that capitalizing on the altitude could help to negate the difficulty of the greens. Lang wasn’t so sure. Not with nine holes designed by Donald Ross and nine by Robert Trent Jones Sr.
It’s not really the elevation at all, said Lang. It’s really not that altitude at all. The greens are really tough. You have to definitely be smart on these greens and do your homework.
Inkster envisions a fair but stern test, despite the daunting numbers on the scorecard.
I’m sure [the USGA] wouldn’t set it up that tough, said Inkster, if they didn’t have a plan.
Ken Klavon is the online editor for the USGA. E-mail him at email@example.com.