Colorado Springs, Colo. – The USGA went from the traditional 18-hole playoff to a three-hole aggregate-score challenge for the 2007 U.S. Women's Open. At the time, a number of reasons were cited for shortening the extra session, including logistics, spectators, volunteers and television.
On Monday, the player to capture the first three-hole playoff in championship history, Korea’s So-Yeon Ryu, identified a reason the new format was especially appropriate at The Broadmoor.
I didn't have any more energy for 18 holes," said the 21-year-old Ryu with a laugh. It's been a long week.
Every other professional woman's golf event employs a sudden-death format to break ties. For several years, the U.S. Women's Open remained the sole championship that was decided with 18 holes of overtime. However, after Annika Sorenstam defeated Pat Hurst in the 18-hole version in 2006, the USGA voted to shorten the playoff. The U.S. Senior Open had already gone to this format.
Ryu's adversary in the three-hole playoff, fellow Korean Hee Kyung Seo, said she was under the impression the 18-hole playoff was still in effect until Sunday night.
Someone told me, I don't remember, the 24-year-old Seo said. I was so nervous, I had no idea in my brain yesterday.
While Ryu played spectacularly, draining a 5-foot putt on the 72nd hole Monday morning to force the playoff, fortune was not particularly kind to Seo.
To begin with, Seo completed her final round on Sunday before play was suspended due to darkness at 8 p.m. MDT, finishing the final three holes with winds gusting and a slight rain falling. Leading the championship at four under, she three-putted the 17th green to drop a stroke and leave a slightly larger crack in the door. Play was halted shortly after Seo signed for a second consecutive 68.
Ryu and those pursuing Seo were called off the course and able to play their final holes under considerably more docile conditions on Monday morning. Ironically, Ryu needed to finish those same playoff holes – 16, 17 and 18 – to complete her last round.
Seo was not complaining, but when asked, she agreed Ryu enjoyed a slight advantage by essentially warming up on the playoff holes. Seo, meanwhile, went through her regular warm-up routine on the practice range. But as most golfers know, hitting shots on the practice range and hitting them under the pressure of competition is a completely different exercise.
Yes, I think she played 16, 17, 18 and the same hole locations, Seo said. She knew about the green conditions and the wind... everything was a little advantage for her. But I just tried to conquer that.
While winning her first major championship, Ryu did not disagree. It was the same [hole] positions and the same teeing grounds, so it was really good for me, she said. The par-5 (No. 17) was the same distance for my third shot [the second time around on Monday], so I could make a birdie and that was really good for me.
Is there a flaw in the system? Did circumstances provide one player an unfair advantage over the other during the first three-hole showdown?
Ben Kimball, the director of the Women's Open, explained the hole locations on Monday were the same that were employed during Sunday's final round. So Seo had seen the positions, just 12 hours earlier.
Moreover, Kimball added, playoff holes are determined in advance and all players are notified accordingly during the championship. Kimball added that changing the hole locations at the last minute would have created other issues.
When we determine the playoff holes, we determine them way ahead of time, Kimball said. So we have no idea how things will shake out. They both played the same hole locations, so (Seo) knew exactly where it was going.
I think the difference is our champion went out and played golf (in the morning), whereby our runner-up came to the course, warmed up, but didn't go out and hit actual golf shots as part of the competition. I think that's where the difference is. But that's just the way it played out.
In the end, nothing was the norm this week at The Broadmoor. Afternoon thunderstorms disrupted play all four competition days, forcing a lengthy 36-hole Sunday finish. Inclement weather and eventually lack of daylight created the first Monday regulation Women’s Open finish since 1987.
Yet, the final product was memorable. Two international players competed in a Women's Open playoff for the first time. Certainly many spectators and those watching on television will remember Ryu’s brilliant 6-iron approach to the 72nd hole, and her continued brilliance in the playoff.
As it turned out, even Seo suggested a three-hole playoff was just about right to determine the champion.
It's better than one, said the runner-up with a smile. I liked it. It was exciting.