Don't wussify the U.S. Open!

Don't let it morph into one more pitch-and-puttathon, like the Greater Milwaukee Open, where super pros and their trusty sidekick-caddies regularly pummel 7,200 yards into submission.

I say this because the Open's overseers seem intent on appeasing whiny golf professionals by making the nation's championship a "fairer test."

The last three Opens, numerous players have remarked this week, were "fairer tests" than many of their more memorably difficult predecessors.

This weekend's event at Bethpage Black, U.S. Golf Association officials have vowed, also will be a "fairer test" than when it last was played there, in 2002. Among changes the USGA has mandated are roughs whose length is graduated instead of standard throughout.

A "fairer test," for those of you who don't comprehend the lingo of the links, really means an "easier course," one that, like the perfect date, will be soft and yielding.

This unwelcome taming is the outgrowth of the players' long-standing unhappiness with the long-standing roughs and billiard-table greens at most Open courses.

Their discontent trended upward early in this decade, when Shinnecock Hills and Pinehurst No. 2 seriously challenged their wills, wits, and wedges.

With their juiced-up balls, atomic-powered drivers, and techno-hybrids, they still weren't able to humble those courses.

Poor babies. Doesn't the USGA know it's their God-given right to knock long irons and fairway woods to within six feet of every pin, to never three-putt, to never be stymied by sand, grass, or trees?

These robo-golfers insist it's not about the double-bogeys. They note that Oakmont in 2007 was a fair test even if Angel Cabrera's winning score was 5 over par.

But the winning score ought to be irrelevant. The Open ought to be about the adventures players have trying to win it. That's what makes it uniquely compelling. It's about the best score, not the most eye-popping.

Remember Shinnecock Hills?

That was delightful TV. Guys hit drives that buried in thick grass just a foot off the fairway. Putts rolled off greens. Approaches trampolined off rock-hard putting surfaces and into delighted galleries.

That was fun. That was interesting. That was different. That was the Open.

Now officials seem willing to transform the event into another T-ball tournament for golfers - no danger, no risk, no unpleasantness.

If all that mattered were birdie fests, where roughs could easily be navigated and greens hit from 245 yards away, the Bob Hope Classic would be a major and Michelle Wie would be something more than annoying.

Let's face it, technological improvements in equipment are threatening to make golf as boring as the NBA. Everybody drives the ball 300 yards and hits 185-yard 9-irons. They can't build courses long enough to compete with the club industry.

Sand traps aren't hazards at all any more, not with the new wedges, whose faces are steeper than Mount Rushmore's. Unless a ball lands beneath a trap's lip, players, it seems, invariably blast out to within a few feet of the cup.

We like to see the best golfers sweat and struggle. We know Tiger Woods and Retief Goosen and Geoff Oglivy have all the shots. We're less sure how they might react to frustration.

The purpose of the Open, a USGA official once famously noted, was not to penalize the best players but to identify them.

An Open filled with fury, frustration, and four-inch rough is still the best way to do that.

With two, you get Lisa Leslie

I don't want to make any mindless assumptions about the WNBA, but if a recent Washington Capitals playoff-ticket promotion is any indication, the women's pro league must be on shakier ground than Coit Tower.

Since its home playoff games were sold out, the NHL's Caps offered fans a $175 package that included a seat in the arena's bar-restaurant, a hat, a buffet, 90 minutes of free drinks, and season tickets to the WNBA's Washington Mystics.

They ought to have thrown in a T-shirt that read: "I went to a Caps game and all I got was these lousy Mystic season tickets."

NASCAR note of the week

According to the Wall Street Journal, a Northern Michigan University professor claims NASCAR is a modern-day outgrowth of medieval jousting.

"It's almost a direct carryover," said Karen Rybacki, a communications studies professor.

Her evidence?

Fans travel a long distance to watch. Dale Earnhardt's nickname was the "Black Knight." There's horsepower instead of horses (get it?). And fans of both liked beer and turkey legs.

And they say serious scholarship is dead.

Say what?

Jimmy Rollins the leading vote-getter among NL shortstops?

Have they limited the fan voting to:

1. Those wearing team jerseys?

2. Those who never leave Ashburn Alley?

3. Those who boo every time the pitcher throws to first base? Or yell balk whenever one fakes a pickoff attempt? Or cheer on two-strike foul tips?