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US Senior Open facing difficult conditions

If Monday's practice rounds are any indication of things to come, Whistling Straits will live up to its name this week.

Players took on stiff winds as they prepared for the 2007 U.S. Senior Open, which opens on Thursday on the shores of Lake Michigan about an hour north of Milwaukee.

And if that lake breeze stays in place for the weekend, those lower-than-expected scores from the first few rounds of the 2004 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits could be gone with the wind.

"Without question," said Loren Roberts, who finished five shots off the lead in the PGA at Whistling Straits three years ago. "There is some room to hit it here, but when you get wind blowing today -- I'm guessing it's probably 15 (mph) today -- in off the lake, it makes the golf course really hard."

The Pete Dye-designed course, built on land that was once an Army base, features a layout reminiscent of golf's Scottish roots. The rough is gnarly, the bunkers are deep and there's even a flock of Scottish Blackface sheep roaming the grounds. Some fans struggled with the course's lumpy terrain three years ago, tripping on the steep berms that line the fairways.

Perhaps most important, there aren't many trees to block the breeze and the course is perched on the often-windy bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan -- giving Whistling Straits its signature "whistle."

"This is such a unique setting," Roberts said. "We don't have anything like it anywhere else in the United States, at least (not that) we play on the Senior Tour."

Wind was a major topic of discussion going into the PGA Championship three years ago, the first major tournament held at the course. The breezes blew as advertised in practice rounds but mellowed once the tournament started, leading to unexpectedly easy playing conditions.

But that was in August, and the Whistling Straits winds generally blow harder in July.

"You're going to have to strike the ball solidly," Roberts said. "Obviously, a little different time of year versus August, so I think we may have a little bit more wind out here. And the wind is what makes this golf course just really hard."

Roberts said players have to be ready for anything.

"You don't know what you're going to get every day," Roberts said. "I'm just going to go out and try to hit a bunch of solid shots. And what happens today might not happen on Thursday."

Jeff Coston, a teaching pro from Blaine, Wash., who made the cut at the 2004 PGA at Whistling Straits, remembers having a tough time getting to the green on the 454-yard, par-4 eighth hole three years ago.

"I hit a driver and a 3-wood as good as I could and I couldn't get home because the wind was blowing so hard," Coston said. "So it's a serious course, and there's no let up with things like that."

In addition to holding up or redirecting shots, Coston said high winds can dry out the course and make putting more difficult.

"Usually the wind narrows up the fairways, dries out the greens -- and puts hair on your chest," Coston said.

 

July 3, 2007

 




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