When Ernie Els, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel teed off for a practice round last Tuesday before the U.S. Open, one very interested spectator traveled with the group. Nicole Garcia, a qualifier for the Women’s Open, walked alongside her fellow South Africans that day on Pinehurst No. 2 – and each of the next five days as well.
“I pretty much watched the whole week,” Garcia said Monday, before playing her first practice round of the week. “Hopefully that will help me a little bit.”
It isn’t often a golfer can spend a week watching others play a major championship course immediately before playing it herself, but that’s one aspect of the unique situation created by the USGA’s decision to have the women play Pinehurst immediately after the men.
The USGA provided the women’s players with inside-the-ropes access to practice rounds and on Sunday, allowing them to walk along with the men. Many took advantage, perhaps Garcia most of all. While several of the women’s players walked with Martin Kaymer and Rickie Fowler on Sunday, Garcia, a 23-year-old Ladies European Tour rookie spent the entire week shadowing the three South African stars.
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During their practice rounds, they even gave her a few pointers around the greens, teaching her a few of the shots they expected to use.
“I basically watched everything that they did – where they laid it up, what clubs they used,” Garcia said. “Obviously it’s a little bit different but I just watched around the greens. They would take five or six balls around the green, hit different clubs, take a 6-iron, lob wedge, putter. I’d basically watch which ones were best. And Ernie taught me a little shot off the toe, for the tight lies, which was pretty cool.”
Belen Mozo, Brittany Lincicome, Brittany Lang and Jaye Marie Green all walked the first eight holes with Kaymer and Fowler on Sunday. They weren’t alone. Michelle Wie, Jessica Korda and Lexi Thompson were spotted on the course. Sandra Gal, like Kaymer from Germany, walked the entire 18 holes alongside Kaymer’s brother.
Mozo, a friend of Fowler’s, found it both educational and nerve-wracking.
“I would never be able to watch golf in a fan’s eyes,” Mozo said. “I will always get very analytical and nervous for them. I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t know the course. I was just mainly looking at their responses, how they react and stuff. Obviously patience is a key here, so I wanted to learn from the best.”
By Sunday, the women were ubiquitous. Stars like Inbee Park and Lydia Ko were roaming the grounds, while Natalie Gulbis became the first women’s player to hit balls on the range, teeing it up alongside Adam Scott and Shiv Kapur. Kaymer, as he prepared for his final round, even asked one female player about the training tool she was using next to him on the putting green.
It was going to be a very different week anyway, thanks to the sheer novelty of playing two major tournaments back-to-back on the same course. It will be interesting to see if the advance knowledge helps the women prepare for a course that’s very different from anything they see on a regular basis.
“It almost felt like I had three or four extra practice rounds,” Garcia said. “Especially watching them. It was interesting to watch which shots they actually used on the tournament days compared to the practice rounds. They used a lot more lob wedge and sand wedge than I thought they would after watching them practicing.”
Even on the first day the women were allowed to play the course, they had the luxury of thinking that far ahead. Garcia, before she even teed up a ball on the first tee, was already ahead of the learning curve.