Experience at Sahalee not required to succeed for Women's PGA Championship

By Scott Hanson
Published on
Experience at Sahalee not required to succeed for Women's PGA Championship

SAMMAMISH, Wash. -- The best male golfers in the world have tested Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, and next week it will be the women's turn in the KPMG Women's PGA Championship. 

Although it will be the first time a women's pro event has been held at the course, several players are tournament-tested at Sahalee, having participated in the annual Edean Ihlanfeldt Invitational that the Washington women's golf team holds there each year.

Will having familiarity with the course be a big help? It depends on who you're asking.

LPGA legend Juli Inkster, who is still competitive on the tour at age 55, won the Ihlanfeldt Invitational in 1982 as a senior at San Jose State.

Her first victory as a pro came the next year at the Safeco Classic at Kent's Meridian Valley Country Club, which, like Sahalee, was designed by Ted Robinson.

"I remember the golf course was really, really tight and really, really wet," Inkster said of Sahalee. "But it was a great golf course, and I can't wait to get back."

Her success at the two Robinson-designed courses was not coincidental.

"They are tree-lined, old-school courses like I grew up on (in the Bay Area)," said Inkster, who makes the case that familiarity matters.

On the other hand, there is Belen Mozo from Spain. She won the Ihlanfeldt Invitational in 2007 while playing for USC.

"I don't remember the course," she said. "It was a long time ago in college. It's a different scenario, and I'm a different player. It's going to play entirely differently, and I'm an entirely different player, so I won't even see the course with the same eyes."

WOMEN'S PGA: Official site | Majors in the Northwest 

Anna Nordqvist, who won the Women's PGA Championship in 2009 (then called the LPGA Championship), was fourth at the Ihlanfeldt Invitational in 2007 behind Mozo while playing for Arizona State.

"I kind of know what to expect, but it's been eight or nine years so I don't know if it gives me an advantage," she said. "But I've been there, and I'm excited to be there. I've got good memories."

Lydia Ko, the top-ranked player in the world, said in April at the Swinging Skirts LPGA event in San Francisco that she had never been to the Seattle area, except "maybe the airport." The next week, she flew in for a practice round at Sahalee.

Other top players also have made a trek to Sahalee to get acquainted with it, but even the value of doing that is debatable.

"I don't like to go early to play a course because it changes so dramatically for the tournament week," said Stacy Lewis, ranked No. 6 in the world. "I'll get there Sunday night, and I'll have three days to prepare, which is plenty of time, at least enough to get me going for the first round."

Though familiarity might help, the players don't need experience at Sahalee to know they better drive their balls straight, with huge trees lining tight fairways on nearly every hole.

"You would think based on the layout, that for someone to win they will have to be able to control the golf ball, and to do that, you've got to be a good ball striker," said Kerry Haigh, the chief championships officer of the PGA of America and the man who will set up the course. "Certainly, length (off the tee) obviously helps, but I don't believe it's as crucial here as it is at some other venues. To be able to drive the ball where you need it to go is important, because that's a big help in playing the rest of the hole and hitting the green.

"And you need to be able to manufacture shots if you do miss the fairway, to be able to get it back into play."

Of course, that's easier said than done, no matter how many times you've played at Sahalee.

This article was written by Scott Hanson from Seattle Times and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.