BETHESDA, MARYLAND | The best players in women’s golf descend on revered and recently redone Congressional Country Club this week for the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship just 12 miles from The White House.
The players expect a tough test, especially with how hilly the vast course is and the resulting uphill approach shots figure to cause an extra layer of stress. LPGA editors on site this week counted eight approach shots into Congressional’s vast greens where the bottom of the flagstick may not be visible. Six of those come on the front nine and two on the back, most notably the severely uphill fifteenth with a tall American flagpole behind it.
Defending champion Nelly Korda clearly sees the challenge in front of her and the field on these particular shots.
“I don't think I've played a golf course where I've had so many blind approach shots in,” Korda said. “(We’re) definitely not going to be saying ‘good shot’ too early this week, but, yeah, it's a really fun track. The PGA of America can do whatever they want with it. They can make it extremely hard or make it scorable as well. I think it will be a lot of fun to see how the week plays out.”
The 23-year-old playing in her sixth KPMG Women’s PGA Championship singles out the fifteen’s approach as “a little scary” and perhaps the toughest here on Congressional’s blue course.
“You just have to trust it, right? You just have to trust that you have to go left of (the flagpole above the green), and you can't see the pin,” Korda said. “You don't know how it's going to bounce because the contour of the green is pretty crazy too.”
Stacy Lewis is making her fourteenth start in this major and she also sees the uphill fifteenth as a crucial challenge this week.
“(It’s a) very difficult hole. I think that hole is going to play pretty tough as the week goes on,” Lewis said.
Not to mention you’re going to likely have an uneven lie for your approach shot coming into fifteen’s green and many others and Lewis believes one key to combat that will be conditioning and preparing your mind for those lies before you play.
“You're going to have uneven lies in the fairways after your tee shots, (it’s about) shaping them the right way to keep them in the fairways,” Lewis said. “There's a lot of different challenges. It's not just one thing.”
To the point of challenging and uphill approach shots, Congressional’s Director of Golf and Athletics Jason Epstein sees it as merely a way to test the best in women’s golf.
“Like Brookline Country Club last week, Congressional has greens at the high points, and that’s going to require the players to be creative as they try to get their shots close and demand variety in their shot-making.,” Epstein said. “The best players in the world like flat lies and to be in a predictable position, and this course can put them on edge and ask them to hit some demanding shots.”
Some of the demanding shots come on the front nine, where Katherine Kirk says there’s not a tee box where you think “easy birdie” and the sixth and ninth-the two par 5s-are incredibly challenging according to Alison Lee.
“On most courses par-5s would be the potential easy holes where you can make birdie, but this week I feel like the two par-5s on the front are the two hardest holes on the whole course, especially nine,” Lee said of the fairway which has three large slopes over its lengthy 585 yards. “You’ve got those two bunkers in play off the tee shot and a tricky second shot where you need to land it in the perfect spot, and if you land it too short, you’re going to have a really long club in on a very firm green.”
If you land it short of the green-which is elevated about 20 feet above the cart path 80-yards below, it’s going to feed back down hill and into the right rough. “Then you’re left with an impossible approach where you can’t see the pin. That green’s pretty slopey too, so you need to just aim at that front, middle portion of the green every single day.”
When players miss greens this week, they’ve noticed a particularly dense Kentucky bluegrass rough where they have to chip from onto these vast greens.
“The rough is not long but it's super, super sticky, thick, and gnarly. It's not like bentgrass, long and wispy. It's tough. You have to really get that speed moving through impact,” Brittany Lang said.
“You have to hit the ball so much harder than you think to get to the hole because it just grabs your club and stops it dead. And so you have to know that you're playing it 10 feet longer on your chips.”
Putting figures to be an important key this week as well. Kirk says the speed of one’s putts will play a large role in staying in contention this week.
“You’ve got to be a great lag putter, and you’re going to have a lot of putts with a lot of curve, so you have to be creative on these greens,” Kirk said.
Creativity, an important factor for the week.