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LPGA players face tough test at Kingsmill

Suzann Pettersen’s first impression of the River Course at Kingsmill?

“It’s probably one of the best courses we will play this year,” the 22-year-old from Norway said. “Tough, tricky greens. The rough is thick enough that you are going to get some really bad lies. It feels like we’re finally playing a golf course and not a bump-and-chip.”

Kingsmill has often provided a rugged test for PGA Tour players over the past two decades. This week, it will challenge the women of the LPGA Tour as the $1.6 million Michelob Light Open at Kingsmill begins a four-day run this morning. First place is worth $240,000.

With the LPGA rolling into town, the famed River Course will be shortened by 568 yards, playing to a length of 6,285 yards. That translates into an 8.3 percent reduction in yardage from what the men played. Just about any way you slice it, players on the LPGA Tour on average hit the ball 8 percent shorter than PGA Tour pros.

When looking at the scorecard for the Michelob Light Open, the surprising fact is that the women will play six of the holes at almost the exact yardage the men played them last fall during the final Michelob Championship.

“That surprises me,” said Laura Diaz, who won twice last season and leads the tour early in the season with five eagles. “But from what I’ve seen, it’s set up to suit our length.”

The par-4 first hole will play 361 yards, 1 yard longer than the men. The par-3 fifth hole will play 170 yards, as it often did for the men. And the par-4 sixth will play 371 yards, which is just 10 yards shorter than what the men played. On the back nine, the women will back it up as far as you can go on the par-4 12th, playing it 398 yards. The men played it at 395. The women are also playing it 5 yards longer at the par-4 14th, which will play 388 yards. And there is little difference at the par-3 17th, which will play 164 yards for the women and normally played 177 yards for the men.

Where the women will gain large advantages is at the par-4 ninth and the par-4 11th. The ninth was a bear for the men at 460 yards. Short hitters frequently needed a fairway wood to reach the green with their second shots. The women will play it 69 yards shorter at 391 yards.

The 11th played 428 yards for the men. For the women, it will play a modest 346 yards. Still, this course will play longer for the women than the typical LPGA venue because recent rains have repeatedly pummeled the area. The fairways are extremely soft and the rye grass in the rough has become so thick that it’s almost like a lateral hazard.

“I hit a drive in the rough on the back nine and had 150 yards to the pin and no chance of getting there,” said Candie Kung, who won the Takefuji Classic two weeks ago in Las Vegas. “I just took a lob wedge and hit the ball back onto the fairway. That rough is brutal.”

According to tour officials, this is the first time a course will host an LPGA tournament the season after hosting an established PGA Tour event.

Coincidentally, it will happen again in October. The LPGA will play the Samsung World Championship in Texas at the TPC at the Woodlands, which for years hosted the PGA Tour’s Houston Open.

Tina Barrett, a tour player since 1989, said the toughest aspect of Kingsmill might be that the Pete Dye-design has many greens that are broken into “sections.” “That makes chipping tough, and I think this is going to be a second-shot course,” Barrett said.

If that’s the case, look for Annika Sorenstam to break through for her second victory of the season. Sorenstam, who won an incredible 11 LPGA tournaments last season, has top-10 finishes in all four tournaments she’s played this season. Sorenstam leads the tour in two key statistical categories that will play to her advantage here. She’s the tour’s leading driver at 280.4 yards and she’s tops in greens in regulation at 79.8 percent.

More than one player has said this course is set up like a major championship on the LPGA Tour. Pettersen, who two seasons ago was the Ladies European Tour Rookie of the Year and finished second in the LET’s Order of Merit, likes it that way. Said Pettersen: “It’s brilliant to have a course where the best ball striker will be champion after four days.”


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