As Paul Azinger prepared for what would be his lone major title, the 1993 PGA Championship at Inverness, he cornered Byron Nelson before the first round. Many people don’t know that Nelson was the pro at the Toledo, Ohio club from 1940 – 1944, beating out Ben Hogan for the job. Nelson also said often that all the rounds he played at Inverness helped him win his record 11 titles in a row.
“I asked him, ‘Mr. Nelson, what’s the key top playing this golf course?’” Azinger said. “(Nelson) said, ‘Paul, I believe the greens are so small here at Inverness Club that if you hit to the middle of all of them, you’ll leave yourself a pretty good chance at a birdie.’ I love how he called the club by its full name. It was a cool aspect of a different generation.”
Watching the first round of the LPGA Drive On Championship at Inverness Club, Nelson’s words remain relevant today, especially after the most recent course restoration by architect Andrew Green, who returned many of the greens to their original Donald Ross-designed size and shape and re-imagined many of the bunkers to have a much more classic Ross feel.
“It’s a very championship golf course,” said early first-round leader Danielle Kang, who fired a bogey-free 66 on Friday. “I practiced a lot about green speeds here. I felt that Inverness was going to be tough on the greens and firm and I had some good speeds today. Even if you hit a good shot, it's not an easy putt. I almost 3-putted from like nine feet.”
Kang is a major champion, having won the 2017 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Olympia Fields outside Chicago as well as back-to-back U.S. Women’s Amateur titles before joining the LPGA Tour.
Lydia Ko, a two-time major winner and the former world No.1, shot 69 on Friday, putting her in a tie for third going into the weekend. After the round Ko said, “The greens (here at Inverness) are pretty tricky. They're undulating, so if you're on the wrong side or a difficult side, it's actually quite a tough two-putt. I think throughout the week it's only going to get firmer and drier.
“You have to play smart around here. If you do get the opportunity, try and grab it. Outside of that, par is, on a lot of these holes, not a bad score.”
Variations of those same words came out of the mouth of Ted Ray when he won the 1920 U.S. Open at Inverness, the first of four national championships held at the club. Craig Stadler also won the 1973 U.S. Amateur here while both Azinger and Bob Tway beat Greg Norman in PGA Championships at Inverness.
Next year, the Solheim Cup will be contested at Inverness Club. Angela Stanford, who will be an assistant captain for the U.S. team led by Pat Hurst, was thrilled to get an early look.
“I was just blown away,” said Stanford, also a major champion. “It is so cool. There are so many things you can do it with it. You can play it from long, short. I love that it's going to play firm and fast this week.
“There is so much to it and I knew right away why it's been a major golf course and held championships and why it's a Solheim Cup course. You have to think on every situation off the tee, into the greens, and around the greens.
“I had a moment yesterday where I was like, man, I'm so glad I worked a little bit at my game, because, I mean, it's tough. But it's fun. It's going to keep us all interested, that's for sure.”
There aren’t many 54-hole events left on the LPGA Tour, but those that remain are usually sprints instead of marathons. Players have to post a lot of birdies and never let up. This LPGA Drive On Championship is different. And it’s because of the golf course.
“It’s a course where you have to stay disciplined,” Azinger said. “You have to drive it great, wedge it great and putt it great. Mr. Nelson was right about in the 40s, in the 90s and now, today. You can’t get ahead of yourself; you can’t get impatient and you can’t attack pins when you’re out of position. Middle of the greens is a good play most of the time.”
Bronte Law, who will almost certainly be a member of Team Europe at the Solheim Cup next year, likened playing Inverness after a 166-day break (the longest time between events in the LPGA Tour’s 70-year history) as “being thrown into the deep end.” But like everyone else, Law was thrilled to be back to play, especially at a place this special.
“It's an incredible golf course,” Law said.That sentiment was shared by all, regardless of their scores.