US Women’s Open At Pebble Reminds Veterans What They’re Missing

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — The sun tried to poke through thick marine layer in the late afternoon, which would have illuminated Pebble Beach on what already had been a special occasion.

The “Reunion of Champions” was for all past U.S. Women’s Open winners. They gathered for a group photo Monday unlike any previous reunion because of the setting — short and left of the 17th green, with golf’s most famous coastline as the backdrop.

This celebration had a measure of regret.

Sure, they soaked up a view to their left of the fourth green, the steep cliffs along the right side of the sixth fairway, waves lapping the shore along the ninth and 10th holes. So many of them — too many — could only look.

The first U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach came too late for the likes of Juli Inkster, Beth Daniel and Meg Mallon, for Karrie Webb, Patty Sheehan and Se Ri Pak.

For too long, the U.S. Women’s Open rarely went to the A-list of championship courses.

Sheehan in 1992 and Paula Creamer in 2010 won at Oakmont. Mallon won one of her two Women’s Opens at Colonial. But there were far too many other courses that were known only regionally, that provided a stern test but lacked the heritage that makes U.S. Opens memorable.

In Michigan, the men played at Oakland Hills and the women played at Indianwood. In Oklahoma, the men were at Southern Hills and the women at Muskogee Country Club.

There is no point looking back now, only forward; the USGA has done its part in helping to elevate the women’s game with more than just prize money.

Even so, it’s worth noting the original plan was for the Women’s Open to be at Pebble Beach nine years before now.

“It’s going to be at Pebble in 2014,” David Fay, the former executive director of the USGA, said during the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open.

And then it wasn’t. During the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, the USGA decided to have the U.S. Amateur at Pebble in 2018 and then the U.S. Open in 2019, the centennial year of the club.

“We will continue to advance the idea of taking the Women’s Open to Pebble Beach,” said former USGA President Tom O’Toole, choosing words that would suggest, “We’ll get back to you on that one.”

But the USGA made good on its pledge, and it didn’t stop there.

Some of those Hall of Famers at the reception Monday could have been reminded of what they’re missing had they walked along the edge of the 18th fairway. The USGA erected posters of future sites, a list that includes Riviera, Oakmont, Oakland Hills, Interlachen, Merion, along with three more trips to Pebble Beach.

Coupled with big increases in prize money — the U.S. Women’s Open led the way in that category, too — the women’s majors are starting to recognize that going to historical courses offers a better chance for the champions to part of history.

Lorena Ochoa won only two majors. She was the first female British Open champion at St. Andrews. Now that the R&A has taken over, the Women’s British has gone to Muirfield (formerly an all-male club), Carnoustie, Royal Troon and Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

The LPGA Championship had been at DuPont Country Club in Delaware before going to Bulle Rock and then going to Rochester at what had been a regular LPGA Tour event. Now that the PGA of America and KPMG are involved, it has gone to Hazeltine and Congressional, and Ronni Yin won the Women’s PGA last week at Baltusrol.

Money matters. So do venues.

“They definitely go hand in hand,” said Michelle Wie West, whose lone major was a U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2 a week after Martin Kaymer won the U.S. Open. “I would say playing for bigger purses and not playing on iconic venues is not a sustainable model. I think it’s a short-term gain.

“I think being on iconic venues is a more sustainable improvement for the tour because it increases the media value, and you have to increase media value to attain more money,” she said. “It’s kind of a chicken-and-egg situation. But I do believe that when you have our women on iconic venues such as Pebble Beach, the fans love it. The fans are the ones that are driving the media value. They love to watch TV and recognize the courses that we play.”

Pebble Beach stands out. It always has, either the PGA Tour event in February or the six U.S. Opens it already has held. Now it’s time for Rose Zhang to go after a left pin on the hourglass green at the 17th, or for Lydia Ko to take on that daunting shot over the ocean on No. 8.

Location matters.

It all started with the 13 founders of the LPGA, who paved the way for Mickey Wright and Kathy Whitworth, who paved the way for Inkster and Sheehan, for Webb and Pak.

Annika Sorenstam, 52 and retired since 2008, received a special exemption to play another Women’s Open because it’s at Pebble Beach. Wie West has effectively retired, but she still is exempt from her 2014 Open victory. No way was she missing Pebble.

Mallon and her generation can only watch and be satisfied with being another link in progress.

It’s not all bad. She at least played Cypress Point on Tuesday.