Often times, when much is expected, the anticipation of an event ends up exceeding the actuality. That was definitely not the case with the 78th U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links. This week-long celebration of women’s golf not only lived up to the pre-championship hype — it was better than advertised.
From the Reunion of Champions dinner Monday night at the Beach Club that saw 39 past winners participate to Sunday’s trophy presentation, memory piled upon memory. This was a week in which those who had already made history were honored as new history was being recorded. This was a week when fans got to see the best women in the game take on one of golf’s most demanding and respected venues.
“It's been a fantastic few days,” said Karrie Webb, the last to successfully defend, , taking home the trophy in 2000 and 2001. “The dinner the other night was really special, to have 39 past champions in the room and hearing all the different stories. Just catching up with people you haven't seen and realizing that we're a very special fraternity of players that have been fortunate enough to win the biggest tournament in golf.”
And that was just the beginning. On Wednesday, USGA CEO Mike Whan announced that that total prize money would increase to $11 million with the winner this year collecting a check for $2 million.
“I want to thank the USGA for doing that and giving the women that opportunity,” said Annika Sorenstam, a three-time champion and World Golf Hall of Famer. “That is a massive change. I think it gives the women a lot more credibility and respect for doing that. Hope other tournaments will follow suit, and let's keep working this direction for other women.”
When Stanford rising sophomore Kelly Xu hit the opening tee shot on Thursday morning, it officially kicked off the 14th USGA championship on the seaside links course, a remarkable relationship that dates to the 1929 U.S. Amateur. Symbolically – and significantly – this U.S. Women’s Open also marked the beginning of a bond between the USGA and Pebble Beach that will extend for another 25 years (2048 U.S. Women’s Open) and nine championships.
On Friday, emotional tears flowed as fans, friends and family said goodbye to Sorenstam and Michelle Wie West, a pioneer and role model for young women who won the historic 2014 U.S. Women’s Open, which for the first time was played on the same venue as the U.S. Open in consecutive weeks – Pinehurst No. 2. Both Sorenstam, the winner of 72 LPGA Tour events, and Wie West said Pebble Beach would be their last U.S. Women’s Open.
“I've definitely held back tears the entire round,” Wie West said Friday when her U.S. Women’s Open concluded with husband, Jonnie, on the bag and 3-year-old daughter Makenna in her gallery. “It was fun. It was great to have my last round here at Pebble Beach. It definitely feels surreal right now. The whole week just meant everything to me, to have my family out here, to be at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Everything was just incredible.”
Saturday was owned by Nasa Hataoka, whose 6-under-par 66 was the low score of the day by four strokes — and the only bogey free effort in Round 3 — and the low score of the week by two strokes. The enormous challenges presented by Pebble Beach renewed respect for the awesome effort by Tiger Woods in the 2000 U.S. Open, when he posted 12 under par and the next best 72-hole total was 3 over par.
While past champions roamed the ground and legends like Sorenstam and Wie West competed, fans were also reminded of the strong future the game holds in its wealth of young talent. LPGA rookie Bailey Tardy and second-year player Allisen Corpuz, two Americans who honed their skills in the college game, emerged as potential future stars.
Rose Zhang, a past champion of the U.S. Girls’ Junior and the U.S. Women’s Amateur, won the first LPGA tournament she ever played as a professional in early June and tied for eighth in the KPMG Women’s PGA, the first LPGA major she played as a pro. Fans flocked to see this wunderkind and she didn’t disappoint, staying in the hunt through the weekend. The global growth of the game was reflected on a truly international leader board. It continued to demonstrate why the the women’s game is in a very good place.
This may have been the first U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach, but the Monterey Peninsula has long embraced the women’s game. Marion Hollins, champion of the 1921 U.S. Women’s Amateur and member of the first USA Curtis Cup Team in 1932, won the Pebble Beach Championship for Women eight times, beginning in 1923. In 1950, the third LPGA Tour event in its inaugural season was at Pebble Beach. She also helped found nearby Cypress Point Club, where some of those 39 past champions renewed their camaraderie with a friendly round.
And there is much more to come. The U.S. Open returns to Pebble Beach in 2027, 2032, 2037 and 2044; the U.S. Women’s Open comes back in 2035, 2040 and 2048. And in 2030, the U.S. Senior Open and U.S. Senior Women’s Open will be staged back-to-back at the resort’s Spyglass Golf Course, part of the rotation for the PGA Tour’s annual AT&T National Pro-Am
Yes, Pebble Beach is a national treasure. It’s among the cathedrals of the game. And with a longtime commitment to both the men’s and women’s game, future stars will get that chance to continue that amazing history.
Ron Sirak is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.