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Rains makes Bethpage Black even tougher

| Thursday, June 18, 2009

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- It's almost impossible to find a golfer who doesn't use the words difficult or long in describing Bethpage Black.

It is impossible to find anyone connected with the U.S. Open who doesn't want to keep the rain away.

With a recent rain history approaching biblical proportions and a forecast that has umbrella salespeople smiling, the 7,426-yard, par-70 public course that is playing host to the Open for a second time this decade is throwing a wet blanket over the chances of a lot of golfers.

"When I practiced yesterday, (it was) the first time that I saw one of the more difficult golf courses in my life -- probably because of the rain," Eduardo Romero said Wednesday.

Come on, how much rain does it take to bother the world's best golfers?

"It's a big golf course. It's a wide golf course. Right now, it's extremely soft. Obviously, the rain, the weather has not been our friend. It's rained in this area something like 30 of the last 45 days," said Jim Hyler, chairman of the USGA's championship committee, referring to Long Island. "So, we have an extremely wet golf course out there.

"Bethpage would play long in any condition. But particularly with the softness, it will play longer."

When the Open was held at Bethpage Black in 2002, it was the longest course in Open history at 7,214 yards. Since then, three Open courses were longer, and only Torrey Pines, which played last year at 7,643, will be longer than this year's layout.

Bethpage Black will have three of the longest par 4s in Open history, including the 525-yard seventh, the longest non-par 5 ever played.

Chad Campbell hit driver off the tee and another off the fairway on No. 7 during a practice round. He was asked if he had ever done that before on a par 4.

"Not when it's not raining and cold and howling," he said. "It was wet but pretty calm when I tried this."

Did the double driver get him on the green?

"Nope," he said, with a smile. "I'm not very good at hitting driver off the deck. At least I learned I can't do that very well."

The field may have to learn a lot in a hurry about playing a wet Bethpage Black.

The forecast calls for rain today, the first day of competition.

"It could be as much as half to an inch of rain," Hyler said. "If we get an inch of rain, it will definitely impact what we do. We certainly hope the thunder and lightning stays away. We can certainly play in the rain."

They did in 2002. Showers, heavy at times, lasted all day Friday, and there was a 49-minute delay for severe weather late in the final round Sunday.

But the course hadn't taken on as much water as it has now. Intermediary rough becomes a problem. Deep rough becomes a penalty.

"The issue is the golf course and how much more water it can take and continue to play," Hyler said. "The area of most concern is the 18th fairway. That is built on a swamp. And it is a swamp -- I guess that's the best way to say it. It is a swamp. It does not drain very well. It's very, very wet."

At 411 yards, the 18th is one of the shortest of the par 4s. There's plenty more for the golfers to worry about before they reach it.

"From tee to green, this golf course is all you want," said Tiger Woods, the defending champion and the winner the last time the Open was played on Bethpage Black. "With the weather coming in here this week, it's only going to get longer and harder, and it's going to be even more difficult."

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