The women of USA GOLF plan to capitalize on their unique situation
The last time the world’s top male and female golfers teed it up on the same course in back-to-back weeks was at the 2014 U.S. Open, held at Pinehurst No. 2. Now, two years later, an almost equivalent situation has begun to unfold—except on the Olympic stage.
Pinehurst No. 2 underwent massive renovations prior to the 2014 U.S. Open, with architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw returning the course to its native vegetation roots. The men played the golf course first, and the women were able to watch how their male counterparts tackled one of the game’s toughest tests.
Likewise, the Olympic Golf Course is being played for the first time by both fields, let alone anyone. The 60 women’s competitors don’t tee it up until Wednesday, August 17, but the women of USA GOLF know they have a unique advantage.
“I will watch the guys. I think they’ll try to get our set-ups pretty similar, so especially Sunday I’ll be there in person to watch. I definitely plan on going out,” Stacy Lewis said. She is arriving in Rio on Saturday during the third round of the men’s competition.
“I think they’ll probably do something similar to what they did at Pinehurst where we are hitting similar clubs, similar hole locations, and I see it being an advantage.”
(Olympic Golf Course architect Gil Hanse walks with Rickie Fowler's caddy during a practice round earlier this week. Image courtesy of Getty images.)
Gil Hanse and his team at Hanse Golf Course Design were selected by the Rio 2016 Olympic committee to design the Olympic Golf Course in Rio. In an interview with Golf Digest Choice (Japan) this past June, Hanse said that watching the 2014 men’s and women’s U.S. Opens was helpful in determining how to make the course playable for both fields.
“The back to back Men’s and Women’s U.S. Open’s in 2014 were our first test event and the lessons learned and the results from these competitions were very helpful to us,” he said.
“Along with our design consultant, Amy Alcott, we were focused on making sure that the tee shot strategies were compelling and consistent for both the women and the men. The placement of hazards down range for the ladies and having their landing areas be forward of the men so that they would be playing similar shots and clubs into the greens.”
We caught up (via phone) with Alcott--Hanse’s co-designer, 33-time LPGA winner, and World Golf Hall of Fame inductee--to get her take on the Olympic Golf Course’s design.
“My input was kind of [that] golf courses tend to be designed from the back tee forward. I wanted to make sure that after the Olympics [there would be] playable tees for all levels of golfers,” she said.
(Alcott at the grand opening of the "Road to Rio" exhibit at the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Florida, this past June. Image courtesy of the World Golf Hall of Fame.)
Alcott, a five-time major champion, loved playing new courses during her days on tour.
“They keep you more mentally sharp,” she said.
“This one [the Olympic Golf Course] won’t lull you to sleep especially if the wind blows.”
We’ve already seen the wind play a huge factor in the men’s competition. Scores for players who teed off during the first round’s second wave were much higher. Wind gusts reached up to 30 mph. Conditions during today’s second round were calmer, despite steady rain in the morning. The weekend ahead is expected to be warm and sunny, which should make for lower scores and an exciting race to the podium.
“The game is won within 50 yards of the hole anyway," Alcott emphasized.
"All the shots around the green, that’s where it’s at. You have to hang in there and come in really well prepared for all the little shots."
And the green is exactly where USA GOLF’s women will be spending much of their time during next week’s practice round.
Lexi Thompson, who arrives on Saturday and plans on watching the men's final round on Sunday, told us the extra practice shots she hits upon seeing a course for the first time occur in that crucial scoring zone Alcott alluded to.
“On a new course I hit a lot more chips and putts around each and every green, making sure I get the general directions and certain chip shots around each green.”
When asked if she anticipates making any club changes, Thompson said: “Usually the only club change I make is between my 2-iron hybrid and putting a 3-iron in the bag depending on how the golf course is playing. So if it gets windy I’ll put a 3-iron in.”
Thompson’s 3-iron may very well be making its Olympic debut. The Olympic Golf Course’s location near the Atlantic Ocean, coupled with Rio’s unpredictable winter weather, have solidified the course’s label as a true test of links golf.
(An aerial view of the Olympic Golf Course. Image courtesy of Getty images)
If there’s one thing Alcott learned during her worldwide travels as an LPGA professional, “the key is embracing the difference,” she said.
“Hang in there and let the chips fall where they may.”
USA GOLF’s women know that advice from their male counterparts definitely won’t hurt their chances at an Olympic medal.
“I think we are supposed to get together with the Team USA guys on Sunday night so hopefully they’ll have some good insight on the golf course. So maybe steal a yardage book from one of the caddies," Lewis said.
A little yardage book could lead to a spot on the podium.