The U.S. Open has been contested at Pebble Beach Golf Links on six memorable occasions, but when 156 of the best women golfers in the world tee it up Thursday it will be the first time the iconic venue has played host to the U.S. Women’s Open. The 78th edition of this championship is truly an important page in the history of women’s golf.
On Sunday, someone will join Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tom Kite and Tiger Woods – all members of the World Golf Hall of Fame – among the 13 USGA champions who have been crowned at Pebble Beach. Nicklaus has won twice here, the 1961 U.S. Amateur and 1972 U.S. Open.
But that woman will also earn a distinction that no one else will ever be able to match: the first to win the U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach.
Here are 3 things to look for in Thursday’s first round.
Seven women have successfully defended the U.S Women’s Open: Mickey Wright (1958-59), Donna Caponi (1969-70), Susie Berning (1972-73), Hollis Stacy (1977-78), Betsy King (1989-90), Annika Sorenstam (1995-96) and Karrie Webb (2000-01). The 22 years since Webb pulled off the feat is the longest drought of a repeat winner since the U.S. Women’s Open was first staged in 1946.
Looking to join that magnificent seven is Minjee Lee, last year’s champion at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club. Lee, who also claimed a USGA title in the 2012 U.S. Girls’ Junior up the road at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City, comes into Pebble Beach at No. 6 in the Rolex Rankings. But she has not won on the LPGA Tour since Pine Needles. The 27-year-old Australian has played well recently, finishing among the top 20 in her last four LPGA starts, including second in the Cognizant Founders Cup, and seems to be rounding into form.
At the same time the professional game is saying hello to newly minted professional Rose Zhang, it is saying goodbye to Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie. Both are likely competing in their last U.S. Women’s Open. Sorenstam, the champion in 1995, ’96 and 2006, is in the field on a special exemption. Wie, the 2014 winner at Pinehurst, still has the 10-year exemption she earned with that victory. They will tee off No. 10 with 2015 U.S. Women’s Open champion In Gee Chun at 8:28 a.m. PDT.
“Thank you very much for that special exemption,” Sorenstam, 52, said. “This is really a big test, as you know, for women's golf, but most of it is about the historic opportunity to come here and showcase women's golf. It's such an iconic place.” The 72-time LPGA Tour winner and World Golf Hall of Fame inductee won her fourth USGA title at the 2021 U.S. Senior Women’s Open.
For Wie, 33, Pinehurst No. 2 in 2014 was the highlight of an injury-plagued career. When she looks to the future, there are other things on her mind beside golf. “I'm going to put my clubs in the darkest corner of my garage, let it sit there for a little bit,” the 2003 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links champion said about life after Pebble Beach. “My garden has been unkempt right now, so I'm going to go back. The cucumbers are really coming in, so I'm definitely going to make some pickles. This is probably not the answer you're looking for.”
Even those who have never been to Pebble Beach are very familiar with the spectacular layout hugging the Pacific Ocean. From its many star turns on television during the PGA Tour’s annual AT&T National Pro-Am to the many USGA championships staged here, Pebble Beach is like an old friend coming to visit after a long absence. Golf fans are familiar with the short par-3 seventh hole and treacherous par-4 eighth. They have also committed the closing par-5 18th hole, which bends along the coastline, to memory. And don’t forget about the par-3 17th, where Jack Nicklaus (1972) and Tom Watson (1982) created history-making U.S. Open moments.
The scorecard distance for Pebble Beach this week is 6,509 yards, although that number will vary daily depending on the weather and the whimsy of the USGA, which loves to test the ingenuity of players by throwing occasional surprises at them. The par is 72 with four par-3s (Nos. 5, 7, 12 and 17) and a quartet of par 5s (Nos. 2, 6, 14 and 18). Among the fun holes will be No. 4, listed as a 308-yard par 4 that likely will play shorter at least one day, and aforementioned No. 7, which measures just 107 yards.
Ron Sirak is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.