* Course closed for play on Tuesday
* Some players yet to play practice round
* Officials reluctant to allow preferred lies (Updates with comment by official)
By Andrew Both
SHOAL CREEK, Ala., May 29 (Reuters) - There will be little choice but to allow the players preferred lies at this week’s U.S. Women’s Open, world number three Lexi Thompson said on Tuesday as officials reiterated their desire not to resort to the measure.
The Shoal Creek course was closed for play on Tuesday after receiving more than two inches of rain (50 mm) from subtropical storm Alberto overnight and into Tuesday, turning parts of it into a sloppy bog.
Players were allowed onto the driving range and practice areas during the afternoon, but the prospect of playing the biggest championship in women’s golf without being able to wipe mud off the ball did not sit well with Thompson.
The U.S. Golf Association (USGA) is famously reluctant to allow preferred lies, a rule under which players can lift, clean and place their balls except when in the rough.
The measure is often used in wet conditions at regular tournaments in the interests of fairness, so that players can wipe mud from the balls. It also often allows for a speedy resumption after a rain delay.
“I would think that they would have to play the ball up,” American Thompson said, meaning preferred lies.
“I played it yesterday and it was pretty wet in some spots and some of the fairways are a little bare in some spots.
“The rain has not helped that situation... so I think it will be a little unfair if they don’t.”
USGA senior managing director John Bodenhamer did not rule out preferred lies, but made clear his philosophy.
“It is our intention to play 72 holes to identify our champion, and to play the ball as it lies,” he said.
“We’ve played 72 of these U.S. Opens playing the ball as it lies ... We believe we will be able to do it again, absolutely.
“Not every U.S. Open has been played on pristine perfect fairways. That’s part of the charm of our game, that there is a randomness.”
Of less concern to some players was the prospect of having to tee off on Thursday without the benefit of a practice round.
While many managed a full 18 holes on Monday, late arrivals among the 156-woman field did not get that opportunity to familiarise themselves with the par-72 layout.
Officials plan to open the course for practice rounds on Wednesday, though that could change depending on conditions overnight.
Amid the debate over preferred lies, world number one Park In-bee sounded prepared for either eventuality.
“Coming into the U.S. Women’s Open, I always try to play the ball with mud or try to play with wet ground conditions because we’ve never played lift, clean and place,” said the South Korean, twice a winner of the event.
“I’ll be surprised if they play lift, clean and place.”
South Korean Park Sung-hyun is the defending champion at Shoal Creek, which last hosted a men’s major in 1990, when Australian Wayne Grady won the PGA Championship. (Reporting by Andrew Both; Editing by Christian Radnedge and Ken Ferris)