Player tees off on golf, says sport is in ‘dire straits’

On the 50th anniversary of his U.S. Open victory that gave him the career grand slam, Gary Player came out swinging Thursday at Chambers Bay.

Player, who won the 1965 U.S. Open title with an 18-hole playoff win over Kel Nagle at Bellerive Country Club near St. Louis, said golf is in “dire straits” and that the pro game is getting “less and less players.”

He also teed off on the costs of playing golf, environmental issues of maintaining courses and the trend of building longer courses that are less enjoyable to play.

“You can buy a course for a dollar if you take over the debt, which nobody does,” Player said. “Rounds are down because they’re making golf courses longer, putting bunkers in front of greens, making crazy undulating greens, and the members hate it.”

Player also had strong words for Chambers Bay, which opened in 2007. The course can play at 7,900 yards from the tips.

“If they just leave the golf courses as they are for the amateur members and cut the ball back 50 yards for professional golf, we wouldn’t have to waste hundreds of millions of dollars altering golf courses and making them 7,900 yards long and increasing the expenses and getting less people to play,” Player said.

Player did say he’s rooting for Phil Mickelson to win so that the 45-year-old can become the sixth in the modern era to win all four majors. Mickelson has finished second at the U.S. Open six times and opened this year’s tournament with a round of 1-under par.

“We don’t always get what we deserve in golf,” Player said, “but I would love to see him win it.”

Injured caddies update

Local caddie Rick Harris was appointed to work for Stephen Gallacher after Gallacher’s caddie, Damian Moore, suffered a leg injury Wednesday.

Harris is one of a handful of Chambers Bay caddies on retainer and ready to step in if needed, according to the U.S. Open caddie headquarters.

Henrik Stenson’s caddie, Gareth Lord, was also injured Wednesday, suffering what Stenson called a “potentially broken wrist” during a practice round on the 16th green.

Lord wore a soft cast Thursday, but remained on Stenson’s bag.

“It’s dangerous out there,” Stenson said. “That’s all I can say.”

Woodland goes to hospital for IV

Gary Woodland, the 29th-ranked player in the world, hopes to play Friday after being admitted to Tacoma General Hospital after playing the first round, his agent said.

Woodland “has been under the weather since Sunday and has been severely dehydrated,” according to a statement issued by agent Mark Steinberg. “While Gary felt he had turned the corner earlier this week, he experienced a significant relapse within the last 36 hours.”

He received fluids Thursday morning. Woodland was shooting even par through 12 holes, but bogeyedd the next four (holes four-seven) to finish at 4-over-par 74.

“The hospital confirmed Gary has a virus,” Steinberg said in the statement. “He is currently being treated with additional IV fluids and hopes to play tomorrow.”

Woodland, 31, has four professional victories. His best U.S. Open finish came in 2011 when he tied for 23rd.

Staff writer Craig Hill contributed to this report.