[Saucon Valley Old Course, 10th hole]
Despite the LPGA Commish fiasco, the US Women’s Open still managed to provide all the excitement that comes with a Major championship. Thanks to Eun-Hee Ji’s clutch play down the stretch and Mike Davis’ brilliant risk-reward setup philosophy.
I was at Saucon Valley for the first three rounds. On Saturday, the players had the option to have a go at driving the green on the par 4 10th. When I first saw the tees had been pushed to the forward box, I thought, “What the heck?” Then I watched Alexis Thompson and Song-Hee Kim play the hole and realized I should have known it was meant to give players options.
The length of the course was shortened on each successive day: 6714, 6708, 6486 and 6337 yards. It didn’t play any easier. I mean, did you see those pin placements?!? Changing the yardage was definitely a different approach, but Davis did it to add excitement. Also it forced players to make what is sometimes a difficult decision – to play “smart” or go for the green. If they went for it, it was a bit of a mental challenge because they had to trust their swing, especially the players in the final groups coming down the stretch. As we witnessed, errant tee shots had the potential to lead to large numbers from around the greens.
On Sunday, the back nine at Saucon Valley played significantly shorter with the option to drive the greens on both the par 4 10th and 15th. The par 3 17th was only 126 yards and downhill. I would imagine most players had a pitching wedge into the green. But the pin was challenging in that it was tucked in the back left corner. To get it close, the ladies had to aim at the pin or just right of it to catch the downslope and let the ball funnel down toward the hole – which resulted in many makable birdie opportunities.
The shortened par 4s reminded me of the shortened 18th hole in the final round at Bethpage Black. Many criticized that it only measured 354 yards and the guys hit irons from the tee and pitched up to the green. Perhaps it wasn’t climactic, but I didn’t think It took away that much from what was still an exciting finish at the men’s Open.
In the final round, it appeared Ji was out of contention when she made double-bogey on the par 4 10th (a la Paula Creamer’s triple in the third round). But what we witnessed was exactly what Davis intended. Pretty brilliant if you ask me.
Ji rebounded and quietly made her move starting on the 13th hole. She birdied three of the final six – including a finish that in a way “saved” the tournament that was tainted by the “player revolt.” IMHO. To make a 20 footer under pressure – at the US Open, no less – was the ending we all needed. Johnny Miller likened it to Tiger Woods’ thrilling putt to clinch the title at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Like the setup at Bethpage, Davis’ risk-reward design at Saucon Valley was a true test of golf and identified the most consistent player and deserving champion. The shortened holes on the back nine opened the door for players to make a run and shake up the leaderboard. Indeed that’s what happened and probably to some extent how Davis envisioned it. It came down to the final putt on the final hole. Now that’s what I call an epic win.