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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 29, 2006

Rain could put a damper on first round

Reader poll: How will our golfers fare in the U.S. Women's Open?

Advertiser Staff

Rolfing

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Michelle Wie chips onto the 14th green as her coach, David Leadbetter, watches during a practice round at the Newport Country Club in Newport, R.I.

STEVEN SENNE | Associated Press

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Mark Rolfing, a 30-year Hawai'i resident and golf commentator for NBC and The Golf Channel, will be providing insights on the U.S. Women's Open from Newport, R.I.

The 72-hole tournament starts this morning and features four golfers with Hawai'i ties Michelle Wie, 16, Kimberly Kim, 14, Stephanie Kono, 16, and Ayaka Kaneko, 16.

Here are Rolfing's impressions after yesterday:

As if playing in a U.S. Women's Open isn't enough pressure. Try adding rain, fog, course length, unpredictable bunkers.

The wind and rain that have ripped the oceanside Newport Country Club were joined by fog yesterday afternoon. The course is so saturated reportedly local fire companies have pumped more than 3 million gallons of water out it cannot take much more moisture.

And more rain is expected as today's first round moves into the afternoon, when Kaneko and Kono tee off.

"Kimberly and Michelle have a huge advantage with the early tee times," Rolfing said. "The real difficulty is going to be for Ayaka and Stephanie. That's a long enough wait anyway to play in your first U.S. Open, but they will also get the worst of the weather by far. They will have no chance to prepare for what's ahead of them. They could be teeing off, they may not be teeing off. They could start late."

BUNKER MENTALITY

Between the weather and Newport's length it is the longest U.S. Women's sea-level layout in history at 6,564 yards scores will be high and rounds long. Rolfing believes 5 hours and 40 minutes on a rainy afternoon would not be a surprise.

The length and tough Open rough is bad enough. When the weather kicks in with strong winds, no roll on wet ground and unpredictable bunker conditions described by some as "dirty little pools" this could be the Nightmare at Newport.

Rolfing watched practice rounds yesterday when players tried to carry fairway bunkers 200 yards out. They couldn't even reach the bunkers, which he thinks is a blessing.

"The No. 1 thing is you've got to stay out of the bunkers," Rolfing said. "If you get in there, you are done. They are so inconsistent and the USGA doesn't think that's a bad thing. But if you get in them you won't know how to get out."

THE TOUGH GET GOING

Wie, as usual, says bring it on.

"I talked to Michelle and she basically told me she hopes it gets tougher," Rolfing said. "The tougher the better. There's no roll and I think she can carry the ball farther than most of the women, which you will have to do. She's worked really hard on this little 3-wood shot she thinks she can get into the fairway. I didn't give her any advice, but on the downwind holes that's what I'd do. This rough is really bad."

Greens also add another element for Hawai'i golfers. The bent grass/Poa annua surfaces are dramatically different from greens in Hawai'i and have confused Wie since she got back East. Rolfing says a bigger problem is simply being 16 and without years of experience reading greens. And, Wie is the oldest of the four Hawai'i golfers, with by far the most experience.

The Wies have decided to have Michelle read her own putts, getting advice from caddie Greg Johnston only rarely. Rolfing agrees with that call.

"I like what they're doing now," he said. "I don't like a situation where you give her a read and don't know how hard she's going to hit it. If she was 20 or 21 it would be different. But getting in the mind of a 16-year-old is tough. I like her reading her own putts.

"She needs to find the biggest part of the hole. Over the last few weeks ... she doesn't lip any putts in. Most players lip some in and lip some out and all hers lip out. She's mostly missing on the high side."

SIGN OF THE TIMES

Apparently NBC, Rolfing's employer, has picked up on the rarity of having four Hawai'i juniors at the same Open. He will be following Wie today but, for the first time in his 20-year broadcasting career, his mike will be open whenever a Hawai'i player is shown so he can comment.

Rolfing calls it "cool," which is probably precisely how Wie, Kono, Kaneko and Kim would describe it. Rolfing also calls Kim, who grew up in Pahoa on the Big Island, "this week's charmer."

"She's the Tadd Fujikawa of the Women's Open," Rolfing said. "The smile and signing autographs ... that's just phenomenally intriguing to me watching a 14-year-old sign an autograph for somebody my age.

"Her attitude through this whole thing the 18-hour layover and her clubs not getting here and everything else is just phenomenal. I guess it's part of being 14 years old."