- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 11, 2002

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. Less than a month ago, pundits and players alike agreed that Bethpage's Black Course was likely to take a beating at the 102nd U.S. Open. The greens were too flat, the rough too short and the fairways too wide for golf's finest.
Forget conventional wisdom.
Every player who limped off the layout after yesterday's practice rounds delivered the same report: expect egos, not records, to get shattered at this week's Open.
"It's a monster," said six-time major champion Nick Faldo, who has made three loops around the 7,214-yard, par-70 course. "I don't know what people were talking about, saying it was going to be easy. The greens aren't severe, but they are subtle. I haven't had a straight putt yet. And from tee to green, it's as demanding as any course I've ever seen.
"Easy? Sure, after you play the 'easy' holes, then you get the 500-yard par-4 (No.12). Piece of cake, huh? Come on, it's a brute. If Tiger shoots 12 under this week, I'm quitting."
Actually, Woods was the first to suggest that the vintage A.W. Tillinghast design wasn't a complete pushover. Two weeks ago, golf's 26-year-old titan took his first trip around Bethpage Black and immediately dubbed it "the hardest par-70 course" he had ever seen.
This proclamation was something of a stunner to the golf community. After all, far less auspicious voices had already posited just the opposite.
Loren Roberts practically scoffed at the large, relatively flat greens after his tour of Bethpage two months ago.
Tom Meeks, the USGA's director of rules and competitions, was asked to estimate the winning score in early May and predicted 8-under, a total that would match the Open's 72-hole scoring record (272). Given the USGA's long-standing aversion to red numbers, that's a little like Roger Clemens predicting a Mets sweep at Yankee Stadium this weekend.
And every golf publication on the planet has jumped on to the Bethpage-bashing pile, assuming the Open field would pound the Black Course into a black-and-blue pulp.
"No way," PGA Champion David Toms said. "I think you will see some good scores here and there. But I don't think you'll see anybody rip it up for four days. There's simply too much that can go wrong out there between the length, the rough and the bunkers."
Keeping pace with technology, the Black Course is the longest U.S. Open venue in history, featuring four par-4s of 479 yards or longer. The 499-yard 12th hole is the longest par-4 in major championship history, requiring a 265-yard carry off the tee to clear a massive cross-bunker that guards the fairway.
"If you can't hit it 280 in the air around here, you might as well go home," said 2001 U.S. Senior Open champion Bruce Fleisher, who withdrew from this week's event yesterday for exactly that reason.
With water making only one meaningless appearance at the par-3, eighth hole, bunkers serve as the layout's primary architectural defense.
"There are more than 12 acres of sand out there," said renowned Open doctor Rees Jones, who helped renovate and restore the course over the last five years. "I think the best sand player is going to win this week because there is no way to totally avoid the bunkers."
And finally, of course, there is the traditional Open rough, shorter this year but perhaps thicker than ever.
"It's got to be the densest rough I've ever encountered," said Davis Love yesterday. "The ball settles down in a gnarly lie every time. I might put a shovel in my bag this week. It's a little ironic since this is the first municipal course to host an Open and all, but I'd say this is the toughest major championship venue I've seen short of Carnoustie."
Pushing tin
Thanks to Golf Digest's "Be Nice to Monty" campaign, easily agitated Colin Montgomerie was in high spirits at Bethpage.
"I think you might see a softer tone from the galleries this year," said the hopeful Monty, referring to the buttons the magazine distributed in an attempt to keep the notoriously vicious New York fans from heckling golf's favorite target. "I'm considering putting one of the badges on my golf bag."
Grady doubling up
Aging major champion Wayne Grady has been under contract to provide Australia's Ten Network with color commentary for its U.S. Open broadcasts for months. On a lark, however, the 44-year-old Grady entered the Open's sectional qualifier at Purchase, N.Y., last week, posted rounds of 71 and 73 and then survived a playoff to earn a spot in this week's field.
Grady intends to honor his contract by fulfilling his duties as an analyst both before and after his rounds at Bethpage.
Qualifier stopped
The security staff at Bethpage's front gate turned away 16-year-old Open qualifier Derek Tolan on Sunday. The guards took one look at Tolan (who looks closer to 12) and assumed he couldn't possibly be a competitor. One hour and a USGA official later, Tolan finally received clearance to enter the property and play his first practice round.

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