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U.S. Women’s Open: Tom Doak Shares His Knowledge…With Everyone

by Jeff Skinner

The U.S. Women’s Open takes center stage this week as the USGA brings another major to the home of so many great courses, Long Island, New York.  Nestled among Shinnecock Hills and The National Golf Links of America is another masterpiece, Sebonack Golf Club.

Designed by the unlikely pairing of Tom Doak and Jack Nicklaus, Sebonack became an instant classic and the USGA wasted little time in showcasing this work of art.  Doak’s reputation was built on natural, minimalistic courses but Nicklaus has had a reputation of building courses heavy on design with a little real estate thrown in.  But the two of them came up with this creative, links inspired design that has received rave reviews from architects and players alike.  Click here for Bradley Klein’s hole by hole look at Sebonack.

Sebonack's 2nd Hole

Sebonack’s 2nd Hole

Stacy Lewis, who is looking for her first U.S. Women’s Open win is thrilled to play here, “I love this course.  It’s a second shot golf course, which I think suits my game pretty well.  I’m really excited about where my golf swing is at and the way I hit the ball.”  Lewis likes the variety that Sebonack offers, “I really like links-style courses.  I like it because you can be very creative.  There is more than one way to get the ball in the hole.”

Many of Sebonack’s holes share fairways, much like original links courses, and that gives the players a very wide target.  World number one Inbee Park is fine with that, “…the wide fairways, the tee shot is the easiest part of this golf course.  The second shot is quite tough, with the slopey greens.”

2010 U.S. Women’s Open Champion Paula Creamer is another huge fan of the Doak/Nicklaus collaboration.  And spent plenty of time with Doak the past two days.  “Tom sent us a note saying that he wanted to come out and kind of walk with me and he asked if that was okay.  And I asked my dad is this him?  Is it a joke?  Is someone playing a trick on me?  He was able to come out yesterday for nine, and then he watched me play 16 holes today.  And I couldn’t say thank you enough, having the architect come out there and walk with you and see you hit shots and just pick his brain.  He’s one of the nicest gentlemen I think I’ve ever met, very humble in what he has done.
When I asked a question, he was right there.  But he was very ‑‑ just let me do my thing, and when I needed it, he was there.  I definitely have taken that in and appreciate him taking the time to come out there and walk with me.”

I walked the front nine following Stacy Lewis and Karrie Webb and they both spent plenty of time chipping around the intricate green complexes.  There is very little rough around the greens and any missed shot will find one of the many contours that feeds the ball down, off the putting surface.  Lewis and Webb took time to study the humps and bumps that they will encounter come Thursday.

Doak at the 6th green

Doak at the 6th green

As I followed them I noticed Doak was with them doing the same for them as he did for Creamer.  There wasn’t much interaction but some, he kept his distance and offered comments when asked.  And when he made the mistake of wandering too far from the ladies I asked a few questions of my own.

As he stood behind the sixth green, one of those “slopey” ones, I approached him, shook hands and introduced myself as a fourteen handicapper that was amazed at his creation.  I said it was an amazing piece of property and true to his humble reputation, he said, “It was a great piece of property when I got here.”  We chatted and I asked him if he thought that Sebonack would be the star of the show this week like Merion was two weeks ago and he shook his head no and said the ladies will handle this course.  He did say, “It’s all out there…and it’s about the tee placements and the green speeds.”  He is sure the USGA won’t have them extremely fast because the weather and wind can have such a quick, devastating effect on the greens.  I was thinking 2004 Shinnecock disaster but he never mentioned it.

I thanked him for his time and wished him and his baby a great week and he wished me the same.  I dare to say that not many world class architects would take the time to walk the course with players about to try and go low on his course and then at the same time chit chat with some stranger.  But we both do have something in common: we love his golf course.

And by the way, I have had a great week already, all in one afternoon at Sebonack.

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