Back into the fire, in more ways than one, go the contestants for the 67th U.S. Women’s Open, which begins at 7 a.m. CDT today at Blackwolf Run.
Hot and sticky is the forecast here on the east coast of the Badger State. Hot and tricky is the layout for the toughest test in women’s golf, just as it was in 1998 when a young Korean, 20-year-old Se Ri Pak, won this championship in a 20-hole playoff over amateur Jenny Chuasiriporn after completing 72 holes in six over par – the highest score in relation to par in 30 years.
The deviously conceived championship course at the Pete Dye-designed Blackwolf Run features sharp, perplexing, fearsome angles and huge, undulating greens that make for a harrowing test of golf.
None of the 156 competitors can unanimously agree what the key to winning this championship will be, perhaps because every facet of the game must be punctilious. But everyone agrees it will be an exacting examination.
This is a real U.S. Open golf course, said former teen sensation Michelle Wie.
The original 18 holes of Blackwolf Run – before it was broken up to make up the Meadow Valleys Course and the River Course – are being put into service this week, though it is a longer version, measuring 6,954 yards (par 72). That’s the longest U.S. Women’s Open layout at sea level.
In 1998, the course played to 6,412 yards and a par 71. (The par-4 seventh has been lengthened more than 150 yards to a 590-yard par-5 this year.)
If there is one feature that seems most daunting, it’s not the distance; it’s the large putting surfaces.
Yani Tseng, the No. 1 player in the world who needs a U.S. Open title to secure the career grand slam in women’s golf, is of a mind to agree.
"I think the course longer, it's better for me. I wish if they can put every tee on the back; I'm happy with that," said Tseng, a native of Chinese Taipei. "The most important [thing] on this course is the second shot, how you're hitting on the green with the spot because the greens [are] huge, and there's so many slopes … it’s really hard to putt on this golf course. So I think you just got to be patient. [You are] going to make a couple of three‑putts. But everybody is going to make three‑putts on this golf course."
"I think the best putter will win this week," predicted Paula Creamer, who agreed that Blackwolf Run had some similarities to Oakmont Country Club, site of her 2010 Women’s Open triumph. "Off the tee, it's not very difficult. I think it's more of the approach shots into greens. These are probably the biggest greens I think I've ever played. And there are so many undulations. Being able to control your distance with your irons and your long clubs is really going to be where it's at."
Added world No. 2 Stacy Lewis: "I think whoever has the least amount of putts is going to be up there on Sunday. During my practice rounds, I practiced kind of 3- and 4‑footers, and I practiced 40- and 50‑footers. You're going to hit great golf shots and still have a 40‑footer. Putting I think is more important even than ball striking this week, because off the tees you can get away with it a little bit, but once you get on the greens you have to be so perfect with the speed and the lines you pick."
Wie, who has struggled this year after completing her undergraduate degree at Stanford University, perhaps spoke for the entire field when she summed up her feelings for the championship.
"The U.S. Open is always a good way to turn things around," she said.
There is that.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.