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SOUTHERN HILLS finds the silver lining on the greens

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TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Already the host of five majors, Southern Hills Country Club has never been in such excellent playing shape.

The greens have been restored to the original Perry Maxwell design from the Depression Era. The bent grass is a special blend that allows for fast greens that can withstand the heat and humidity of Oklahoma in June.

All this because of a vandal.

No one at Southern Hills is thankful for the perpetrator who burned obscenities into the greens with acid two years before the 101st U.S. Open.

Still, the club is reveling in the legacy of the attack on its turf.

``My thought from the beginning was, 'Let's turn this into a positive thing for the club,' and now it is,'' Southern Hills head pro Dave Bryan said. ``We're better off than we would have ever been.''

Bryan doesn't like to rehash the thoughts he had driving through the gates on June 26, 1999, and seeing the damage to eight of the greens on the championship course, pockmarked yellow from the acid. Four greens on the new 9-hole layout also were vandalized.

A former maintenance worker at Southern Hills was suspected but never arrested.

Instead, Bryan points to a silver lining _ greens that glow emerald with a denser, healthier grass hybrid. They figure to test Tiger Woods and the best players in the world when the U.S. Open begins Thursday.

Would such renovations have been made without the vandalism?

``Ninety percent of it, no,'' Bryan said.

Club officials closed the course in August for a 10-month overhaul and all 18 greens were reseeded with a special blend of grasses known as A-1 and A-4 (the ``A'' stands for Augusta).

And the club didn't stop there.

Southern Hills installed a new computer-controlled irrigation system, built new tee boxes to stretch the course by about 180 yards, leading to the longest hole in U.S. Open history (No. 5, 642 yards) and the longest par 4, the 491-yard 16th.

Also, architect Keith Foster pored over Maxwell's old topography maps and discovered the shape of the greens had changed ever so slightly through the years. Part of it was from the encroachment of Bermuda grass.

The other changes stemmed from thousands of bunker shots. Sand sprayed onto the green worked like top soil, causing a buildup over the lips of the sand traps.

``It was quite a process,'' Bryan said. ``It was tedious, but again, it was one of the things that we took the opportunity to address.''

The result?

``I think it's a much better course,'' said Tim Moraghan, who leads course preparation for the U.S. Golf Association.

But even after the renovations, another foe was conspiring.

``We had a tough summer last year,'' general manager Nick Sidorakis said. ``We had a tough winter. We haven't really had a lot of heat to grow grass.''

Southern Hills sodded several sections of the fairway where grass was killed while covered with ice for about 30 days. Cool temperatures and rainy skies left course superintendent John Szklinski muttering, ``Need heat,'' as he studied the Bermuda grass on a fairway.

``I'll be satisfied June 11,'' he said.

That's the day players arrive for practice rounds on a course that has come a long way in two short years.


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