By Jennifer Myers
TERRE HAUTE — Golf Digest, in association with the USGA and NBC Sports, has asked the question, “Can the ‘average golfer’ break 100 at Bethpage Black under U.S. Open conditions?”
In its second year of the event, this year’s challengers will be Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Jordan, Justin Timberlake and the winner of a public voting contest on GolfDigest.com. The magazine asked contestants to submit a six-word essay on why they should represent the average golfer and play Bethpage Black. The winner, a Phoenix, Ariz., police lieutenant named Larry Giebelhausen submitted the essay: “I’m a cop. I’ll shoot low.” The runner-up in the contest, a 39-year-old emergency room doctor from Pennsylvania named Philippe de Kerillis, submitted the essay, “ER doctor ready for Bethpage trauma.” Giebelhausen had 30 percent of the votes and de Kerillis had almost 29 percent.
When he first entered the contest, the Phoenix policeman did not have a handicap. He has since entered enough scores to establish a 3.8 Handicap Index, which will probably translate into a 5 or 6 on the Open course at Bethpage.
The other three members of the elite foursome all have single-digit USGA Handicap Indexes also, and have been in Golf Digest’s rankings of athletes and musicians before. In 2007, on the list of top athlete-golfers, Jordan ranked tied for 30th with an index of 1.2 and Roethlisberger was tied for 121st with a 7.0. Timberlake was ranked tied for 15th with a Handicap Index of 6.0 in the Top 100 in Music list in Golf Digest.
The Bethpage Black that these players will face will be slightly different from the one faced in the 2002 U.S. Open. Fairways have been re-contoured, and there will be graduated rough this time and more flexibility on teeing grounds.
On No. 8, for instance, there are now three teeing grounds, allowing for the par-3 hole to be a mere 135 yards or up to 230. On number 14, another par 3, the green was enlarged, creating three new hole locations.
There will be five new teeing grounds, on holes 3, 5, 7, 9 and 13, also giving more variety in the setup. The only other teeing ground that was amended was on the 492-yard par-4 10th, which was criticized in 2002 for its 240-yard carry over fescue to the fairway. The hole has been lengthened by 13 yards with the new tees, but the fairway has been brought back to make the carry now a mere 224 yards to the fairway.
The new U.S. Open course setup philosophy, first introduced at Winged Foot in 2005, is to “make them think,” and that the farther off-line the shot, the more difficult the play should be to the green. The USGA wants players to have to think about the shot to hit, and to then demonstrate their shot-making skills.
With this in mind, the first cut of rough should be 1 inch high, 2 inches for the next 15 feet, and 5-plus inches farther out. The greens in 2002 slicked up to 14 on the stimpmeter as the week went on. This year they will start at that speed beginning with the practice rounds.
The event will be filmed June 12 but will be broadcast on NBC from noon to 1:30 on June 21, prior to the final round of The U.S. Open.
• Be a part of Arnie’s Army — The USGA has invited all golfers to participate in a very special project that celebrates the life of Arnold Palmer, who will be celebrating his 80th birthday on Sept. 10. They are asking people to share memories and personal stories of Palmer in words, photos or video.
Rand Jerris, director of Communications for the USGA and the USGA Museum has this explanation: “Even if you’ve never had the opportunity to meet him, it seems that almost everyone in and around the game has their own Arnold Palmer story. Perhaps he was a childhood hero, maybe you once saw him play, or you just have a favorite story about him. The key is that we’re looking for personal memories — honest, from-the-heart sentiments that capture the essence of what Arnold Palmer has meant to the game.”
To participate, visit The Arnold Palmer Memory Book online at usgamuseum.com/arnoldpalmer.
• Quote of the Day — “He is the reason we’re playing for all this money today.” — Ken Still, on Arnold Palmer.