US Women's Open: Pinehurst hosts men's & women's Opens

 

Network TV cameras homed in on Lexi Thompson striding down the fairway on one of the biggest days of the golfing year.

The 19-year-old American star wasn't even playing. She was watching Martin Kaymer's march to glory in the men's US Open last Sunday.

Ordinarily, she would have been hundreds or even thousands of miles away in another part of the United States.

But she would have been doing exactly what she was doing last Sunday, preparing for the most important event on the women's schedule.

This time, though, she was able to do it on the same course while it was being used by the men, and golf fans were able to see it.

The US Women's Open  will be staged on the Pinehurst Number 2 layout when it starts on Thursday. It is the first time the United States Golf Association (USGA) has run the tournaments back-to-back at the same venue.

US Open Championships 2014

Men's Open

Women's Open

Par: 70

Par: 70

Length: 7,562 yards

Length: 6,649 yards

Players: 156

Players: 156

Prize fund: $9m (£5,300,977)

Prize fund: $4m (£2,357,670)

Winner's share: $162,000,0 (£954,000)

Winner's share: $585,000 (£345,000)

Course rating: 76.0

Course rating: 78.1

Slope rating: 147

Slope rating: 145

Thompson was among several leading contenders to be seen practising alongside the men last Sunday. Then the women took the chance to walk and watch the championship's climax - and the TV cameras were there to film them.

It is a refreshing move that can benefit the women's game hugely. By sharing the same stage as the men, it has already received more media attention than usual.

"Obviously Wimbledon's coming up next week and we're getting what the women's tennis players get in a sense," British qualifier Holly Clyburn told BBC Sport.

"It's the first time they've done it and if it comes off it could prove the way forward. It's good for us because we get a sneaky peek and an extra idea of how to hit different shots and what the course is going to be playing like.

Catriona Mathew at the US Women's Open

Scotland's Catriona Mathew hopes to add to her 2009 Women's British Open title at Pinehurst this week

"I think it's a step forward for women's golf because it gets a bit more recognised and hopefully the crowds will stay around as well."

The course will be shortened from the monstrous proportions faced by the men. It will measure about 6,500 yards and plenty of water is expected to be applied after the dry conditions of last week.

It will still be an immense test but it should showcase women's golf brilliantly. The sport has been missing a trick by not finding ways for female stars to share the same spotlight as their male counterparts.

There is no logistical reason, for example, for men's and women's matchplay tournaments not to be played at the same time and on the same course.

Provided television contracts were in place, it would allow for more matches to be shown during the weekends when fewer games are being played. There would be more variety for viewers and a better TV product.

Perhaps this move will act as a prompt for such thinking.

US Women's Open: Previous venues and winners

  • 2013: Sebonack Golf Club, Inbee Park
  • 2012: Blackwolf Run, Na Yeon Choi
  • 2011: Broadmoor Golf Club, So Yeon Ryu
  • 2010: Oakmont Country Club, Paula Creamer

In the meantime, let us see how the women cope with the challenge of a course that left only three men under par last week.

While the USGA deserves credit for this enlightened move, it should be criticised for an entry criteria that does not allow for the leading golfer on the Ladies' European Tour to compete.

It is ludicrous that Charley Hull, ranked 34 in the world and already a Solheim Cup hero, is not in the field. She is one of the most exciting talents in the game, yet only the top 25 from the rankings are guaranteed a spot.

Britain's best hope for success is Scotland's Catriona Matthew. In the men's event, Kaymer spoke of his prowess with his iron play being key to his success.

Matthew, the Women's British Open champion of 2009, is particularly strong in that aspect of the game and has the experience and patience for the Pinehurst test.

Given the unique circumstances of this US Women's Open, the tournament could finally get the recognition it deserves.