BETHESDA, MARYLAND | The LPGA visits famed Congressional Country Club this week just outside of Washington, D.C. for the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship on a course which has previously hosted five major championships. Those were all from the men’s game, including the 1964 U.S. Open (Ken Venturi), 1976 PGA Championship (Dave Stockton), 1995 U.S. Senior Open (Tom Weiskopf), 1997 U.S. Open (Ernie Els), and 2011 U.S. Open (Rory McIlroy).
This championship will be the first women’s major hosted at this memorable club and the ladies feel fortunate for the opportunity.
“It’s all pretty big out here and you honestly feel like you’re not at a regular Tour event,” Sophia Popov told LPGA.com of what it feels like being on the grounds at Congressional’s Blue Course. “It’s fun to drive in here and just kind of see it all. It does kind of remind me of when I watched Rory (2011 U.S. Open). I’m a big Rory fan so it’s kind of cool that we get to play on the same golf course now.”
So does Popov remember where she was that week in 2011?
“I was actually in Germany. I was in between my freshman and sophomore years of college,” Popov said. “I went home over the summer. In Germany it always comes on late at night, so I really clearly remember that time and I stayed up. I remember it was like 2 am my time in Germany by the time Rory holed his last putt and so I remember that pretty vividly, so it’s kind of nice for me looking back on it this week.”
For Rachel Rohanna, watching Rory’s win felt like the recent past, not over a decade ago.
“It was 2011 but it feels like only three or four years ago. It was just so neat to watch that and remember that as I play the course this week,” Rohanna said.
It should be noted that in 2020, architect Andrew Green made a redesign to the course and removed over a thousand trees allowing for visuals of the iconic clubhouse on all eighteen holes.
“The clubhouse is beautiful, and it’s just so big. I’ve already gotten lost in it about four or five times,” Rohanna laughed. “It’s a special place. You don’t get to play a course like this every day. I’m just going to try and enjoy the experience and appreciate being able to play Congressional and to soak in the atmosphere.”
Rohanna chuckled to think that she played her home course in Green county, Pennsylvania with her uncle caddie and friends in an eight-some just the day before she arrived at Congressional’s world-renowned Blue Course.
“Even if you’ve watched it on TV, I don’t think you realize how massive this place is until you get here and walk it,” Rohanna said.
Mariah Stackhouse is playing this week on a sponsor’s exemption from KPMG, and she’s thrilled with the stage this course presents.
“I think it’s incredibly special that we ladies get to play here. That’s the thing about KPMG, once they took over this tournament, they’ve been really good to make sure to give us access to storied courses with a lot of history and great competition,” Stackhouse said. “And it’s awesome for us to be on this venue where the men have played big events and for us to test our game as well.”
Stackhouse explains that the big feel of the event takes hold of you long before you get to the first tee.
“Look at this amazing practice facility, look at the drive coming in here, everything about this venue feels grand,” Stackhouse said. “From the second you step foot onto the facility, even before you get to the first tee everything is first class and it just really helps elevate the feeling of the event and heightens your understanding of what this major is. It’s a major championship and you feel it everywhere. I think it just gets us in the zone quickly.”
Some major championship courses have more history than others, but Congressional is one that is so well known that 2016 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship winner Brooke Henderson says she can “absolutely” feel the history on the property here.
“It just feels like a major championship golf course,” Henderson said. “Knowing that the men have played here and having so many great champions crowned here, it’s really cool for us to be out here this week. I’m super excited for the opportunity to play here.”
It seems to give Henderson an added kick in her step that one of her favorite men’s players Rory McIlroy got that famous win here eleven years ago in the U.S. Open for his first ever major win.
“I’m a huge fan of Rory, so having him win here is a very cool thing for me. It’s been a lot of fun to walk by his pictures and his scorecard in the locker room and remember his victory from that week,” Henderson said.
We’ll soon have our own chance Sunday to celebrate a big victory for one of these ladies on that very same eighteenth green where Rory’s life changed forever.