The U.S. Women’s Open, the most prestigious women’s major championship, is upon us, and the crew is here to preview it roundtable-style.
Which storyline going into this U.S. Women’s Open are you most interested in?
Andy Johnson: The theme of “familiar but different.” We all know the iconic holes at Pebble Beach. Along with Augusta National and probably TPC Sawgrass, Pebble is one of the only American courses where even casual golf fans know many of the holes.
Unfortunately, these holes have grown duller over the past 20 years. Two factors are to blame: 1) technology (sorry, I mean “athleticism”) in the men’s game has taken away many of the course’s defenses; 2) the resort’s ongoing unwillingness to preserve the golf course’s architecture. Pebble is the only premiere course in the world without a “consulting architect” of record, and it shows. The greens are shells of their former selves, and odd decisions on mowing lines continue to chip away at the simple, brilliant strategy of “play toward the ocean, reap the reward.”
That said, there are plenty of things to look forward to this week. The time of year and broadcast windows should give us plenty of magic-hour light. The modern women’s game is correctly scaled for Pebble Beach. Hitting it over the giant ridge on No. 6 will be a feat, not a foregone conclusion. I can’t wait to be on the grounds and see shots closer to how they were envisioned when the course was designed. The holes everyone knows will be on display, but we will see them played differently. It should be a lot more interesting.
Will Knights: I think there is a real chance we walk away from this week having seen the most entertaining tournament hosted at Pebble Beach in recent memory. As Andy said, the style of play in the women’s game is well suited to Pebble. Players won’t be able to hit irons into No. 6. They won’t be spinning wedges off the green on the 11th, and Nos. 8-10 will be the brutes they’re meant to be. I’m fired up to watch the golf this weekend.
Shane Bacon: Call me crazy, but this week feels very 1997 Masters to me, with Rose Zhang versus the rest of professional golf. I know that the gap between her skill set and that of Jin Young Ko and Nelly Korda isn’t nearly as wide as what we saw with Tiger and the rest of the PGA Tour back in the late 90s, but considering the location of this championship and what Rose has already done as a pro, my focus is on her. When you look at the lineage of U.S. Open winners at Pebble, someone like Rose joining the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, and Woods would be a big deal.
Meg Adkins: When Rose Zhang turned pro in late May, a special exemption into the U.S. Women’s Open came almost immediately from the USGA. It was an obvious and smart choice given Rose’s record-breaking amateur career and past success at Pebble Beach, where she holds the women’s course record. No one could have predicted back then that we’d be talking about Rose as a betting favorite and popular choice to win this week. The ascension to LPGA “It Girl” has happened at warp speed, and here we are, a little over a month into her pro career, fully expecting more Rose fireworks. It’s a dream storyline for the USGA, LPGA, and women’s golf, and it makes this USWO the most tantalizing women’s championship in years.
Which hole are you most excited to see the women play this week?
Will: I’m going to cheat here somewhat and say Nos. 9 and 10, especially if they play at ~430 yards like the media guide says they will. Given how accurate the LPGA Tour players are, will more of them be willing to push their drives toward the cliffs to open up the greens? The aerial attack of the men’s game doesn’t show off the full strategic character of these holes, and I’m keen to see if the women’s different ball flights add some intrigue.
Shane: No. 8. There is no place to take full advantage with length, so players are going to be forced to hit shots from 170 to 200 yards into a green that is death if you go long. I think we will see anything from a 3 to an 8 (or even 9) from the players this week on the eighth hole.
Andy: The coastal holes are obviously must-see TV, but I’m intrigued to learn how a hole like the second plays for this field. A nothingburger for the men, it will be a par 5 this week for the women, and the deep cross bunker will be a factor for anyone trying to get home in two.
Garrett Morrison: This is a bit sadistic, but how about No. 14? This burly par 5 will be a true examination of skill and nerve in the closing stretch of the course. The reverse-camber slope of the fairway makes precision a must on the first two shots, and the small pedestal green demands touch on an approach from an uneven lie. Gary Woodland tamed this beast of a hole in 2019 with a driver and a 3-wood. Who will pass the test, and how will she do it, this week?
Meg: I’ll go sentimental here and say 18. Especially on Friday, it has the potential to give viewers some really cool moments. I’d love to see Michelle Wie West and Annika Sörenstam make it to the weekend, but if they’re outside the cutline, it’ll be an emotional sendoff on one of the most recognizable holes in the world.
Which player has the most to prove?
Andy: Nelly Korda. It’s been an unlucky couple of years for her. She has battled a series of injuries since her breakout in 2021, when she won four times and ascended to No. 1 in the world for the first time in her career. Korda made her return last month at the Women’s PGA Championship and was understandably rusty. It would be great to see her in the mix. When healthy, she’s a true star.
Will: Lydia Ko obviously has nothing to prove from a career-achievement standpoint, but things haven’t clicked for her yet in 2023. After an all-world 2022, Ko has been a completely different player, one who hasn’t sniffed contention for months. It would be great to see her make a statement at Pebble.
Meg: I’m with Andy here. I want to see some fire from Nelly after she missed the cut by a mile at the PGA Championship. It’ll be a huge disappointment if she’s not around for the weekend at a second major in a row.
Which future U.S. Women’s Open venue intrigues you the most?
Andy: Chicago Golf Club. Much like LACC, there is an allure of the unknown. While Pebble is the biggest name on the list of future venues, it’s very familiar to fans. Because Chicago Golf Club has hosted so few tournaments throughout its history, there’s a real mystique to the place. Beyond the lack of exposure, the course should play phenomenally for the women. I can’t wait to see some of the world’s best take on those greens.
Garrett: Eight years is a long time to wait, but I’m looking forward to seeing Oakland Hills in 2031. Gil Hanse’s historical renovation has brought this Donald Ross design back to its roots while also buffing it up for future championship-hosting gigs. It’s one of the best parkland courses in America, with greens that—no exaggeration—rival Augusta National’s in boldness and difficulty.
Shane: In golf’s current form (especially on the men’s side), all I want is pure golf and pure championships. To me, that’s the U.S. Open. These are the biggest fields at the toughest golf courses showcasing the purest golf imaginable. So when I think about that and look at the future USWO sites, I can’t help but circle Riviera in 2026. That’s a golf course that asks players to hit every shot in the bag, from cuts and draws to long irons and short irons.
Will: Erin Hills! I’m pumped that the USGA is giving that place another chance, and I think it’ll be a highly entertaining venue for the women’s game. It’s not exactly my favorite golf course, but it is an intriguing design for championships. If the wind actually blows and the ground game is a factor, it will be an amazing watch.
Meg: LACC. Legions of Rose Buds will crash the gates and give the North Course a 16th-at-TPC-Scottsdale vibe as revenge for #ticketgate2023.
Pick to win?
Shane: I’d be shocked if Rose Zhang isn’t in the hunt come Sunday. It reminds me of Rory at the Old Course, where it felt almost impossible for him not to be in contention considering what the golf course asks of players and the talent and skill set he possesses. The same can be said for Rose at Pebble. She’s going to be in the hunt come the weekend because of her ability to get the ball in the hole on and around these tiny Pebble greens. I think she’s the best golfer in the world. The magnitude of this venue and this championship won’t get the best of her.
Garrett: As a card-carrying member of the #ZhangGang, I have no interest in throwing cold water on the Rose hype. She’s as exciting a prospect as American golf has seen in years. But there’s another 20-year-old on the LPGA Tour whose incredible iron game suits Pebble Beach perfectly. Ruoning Yin won the Women’s PGA Championship two weeks ago while losing six strokes putting in her second and third rounds. She hit 37 consecutive greens to close out the win. She is the No. 5 player in the world. She was born in 2002. How are we not talking about her more? How is she not among the top 10 betting favorites for the U.S. Women’s Open?
Andy: It’s been a disappointing year for Lydia Ko, but I feel like the occasion will bring best out of her. The greatest women’s player of the past 15 years, Ko has spectacular control from tee to green, and that should carry her to the top of the leaderboard. A win for a player like Ko would be fitting for Pebble’s debut as a USWO staple site.
Will: Atthaya Thitikul. In 11 starts this season, Thitikul has had seven top 10s and just two finishes outside the top 20. She rolls out of bed in contention and has shown an ability to compete at a variety of different golf courses. But beyond her considerable physical skills, I think back to what Brooks Koepka said about the number of players who can win major championships. Plenty of players are going to be psyched out just by playing in the U.S. Women’s Open. Another group will be intimidated by the fact they’re playing at Pebble Beach. Others just won’t have their best stuff. That leaves a handful of top players who are consistent enough to work through whatever bad stretches they have, while also being strong enough mentally to win on the biggest stages. It’s Atthaya’s time.
Meg: Rose Zhang because she’s Rose *bleep-ing* Zhang.
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.