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Bosco’s Corner: Bethpage humbles the pros

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The outcome wasn’t a surprise at all. The image of Tiger Woods holding the U.S. Open championship trophy was more or less expected. The real star turned out to be the course.

Long Island’s Bethpage Black is the only public golf course to host the U.S. Open in the storied history of the tournament, giving many locals pride in knowing that the course that has humbled them so many times over the years, also humbled the pros.

The first time I ever heard of Bethpage was when I was interviewing then Archbishop Molloy High School golf star Charles Rollo. Rollo, then just a kid who looked no bigger than one of my meals, is a phenomenal golfer, the kind some people shrink from playing with, despite the fact that back then he looked younger than his 16 years.

His appearance is what probably led to one ignorant hacker chastising Rollo while the youngster was teeing off on the first hole at Bethpage Black, the first time he ever played it.

Apparently, Rollo relayed to me several years ago, this hacker pointed out to Rollo, who was with his father, that the course was for expert golfers only and not for kids. Rollo, who was barely 140 pounds soaking wet, promptly stepped up to the tee and whacked his opening drive some 280 yards down the center of the fairway.

My memory won’t allow me to remember exactly what Rollo said in reply after his drive, but I can think of a few choice words I would have had for that gentleman.

Bethpage has been the crown jewel on the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historical Preservation, and probably could have earned the right to be named site of the 2002 U.S. Open through reputation alone. For I bet officials at the USGA wouldn’t steep so low as to sleep in the parking lot on a Friday night to test out the place Saturday morning.

Think about that. Every weekend hundreds of, dare I say, completely insane grown men camp out in the parking lot at Bethpage to get a crack at the Black. I have done some pretty crazy things in the name of golf over the years, but I have never been one of those guys. For starters, my car is too small and my back would never take it being crumpled in the back seat of my petite automobile.

My self worth is low enough as it is, anyway. I don’t need to shoot triple digits on the front nine of any course to further erode what little pride I have remaining in my aging frame.

I mean, pros, guys such as Nick Faldo, who shot an altogether respectable 5-over par for the tournament and finish in a tie for fifth, was quoted in one report as saying, “This is a great golf course. They didn’t need to do what they did in some places. It’s supposed to be a hard course for the Open. It’s pretty clear that this is a hard course no matter what, and a very good place to hold the Open.”

Yeah, that’s the kind of place I need to play. (Please take note of the thick sarcasm in that last statement.) While it certainly would be a thrill to play the course and walk the same fairways Tiger and Phil Mickelson have walked, I really doubt I would be playing for anything but the experience, and scoring decently would be a pipe dream.

Just look at the course and you’ll know what I mean. Keep in mind that the greens were undulating and unbelievably fast, despite some heavy rains throughout the tournament. Not to mention that the players faced blind shot after blind shot, many times in a fierce, strong wind.

The first hole is a 430-yard par four. You have to kill it off the tee just to make the short grass and hope you hit it long enough to make the slight dogleg right and have a clear shot to the green, which is surrounded by bunkers.

The 389-yard par four second hole is a little easier, or so it seems. All you need is a straight drive to have a reasonable shot at the green in two. Still, Tiger bogeyed the hole Sunday.

The third is a 205-yard par three that seems like a pretty straight forward hole, though long for a par three by my standards. The fourth is a par-five 517-yard affair that requires the golfer to hit over no less than three bunkers if he wants to get home in two, something even Tiger failed to do Sunday, settling for par after leaving his second shot in a bunker just short of the green.

Holes five, six and seven are long par fours, all measuring more than 400 yards, the seventh topping out at an unheard of 489. Somehow, Tiger birdied that hole Sunday.

After the 210-yard par-three eighth — the only hole with water on the course — are four, count ‘em, four straight long par fours including two, the 10th and 12th, measuring more than 490 yards. That is just inhuman. A duffer like me has to hit the drive of his life on a hole like that and still have anywhere from 200 to 250 yards to the hole to get home in regulation. No thank you.

The 14th and 17th both seem like pretty manageable par threes, while 15 and 16 again serve up long par four holes. The par-four 18th measures just 411, but still claimed its share of victims this week.

The more I think about this course, the more I want to play it. Somehow, though, I don’t think any of the pros leaving Long Island this weekend would share that sentiment. Maybe if I got myself an RV....

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

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