Sahalee: ‘A very demanding tee-shot golf course’

Brooke Henderson says she will go with a gut feeling on which club to use when teeing off. “Driver is normally the best club in my bag, and it definitely gives me an advantage over a lot of the field,” she says.
Brooke Henderson says she will go with a gut feeling on which club to use when teeing off. “Driver is normally the best club in my bag, and it definitely gives me an advantage over a lot of the field,” she says. The Associated Press

Back in 1998, when Sahalee Country Club played a measly 6,906 yards for the PGA Championship, Tiger Woods was asked after the final round how he felt about it as a major championship venue.

Too short, and not roomy enough to hit a driver, he said.

This week, the best female golfers in the world will test that supposition at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

At 6,624 yards, Sahalee is a longer-than-average layout for the LPGA Tour. And it should be — this is a professional major championship being contested.

If the course was wide open, 6,600 yards would not be that much of an issue. But many of the holes at Sahalee are long and tight, mainly because of the long line of trees and their overhanging limbs.

“There’s not too many golf courses … that are this long and this tight,” said Lexi Thompson, the top-ranked American in the field. “Some of these tee shots … you can’t start it right or left, or you’re hitting a tree off the tee box.

“It’s a very demanding tee-shot golf course. That’s good — that’s what a major should be.”

So who does Sahalee favor?

Maybe both the long and short hitter.

“Long” by today’s standards in the women’s game is 265-plus yards off the tee. Thompson leads the LPGA Tour at nearly 284.6 yards per drive.

And if these young up-and-comers such as Thompson, or Canadian teenager Brooke Henderson, or Thai star Ariya Jutanugarn, who has won her past three LPGA Tour starts, can hit it long and straight, it would be a huge advantage.

Thing is, that is difficult to do consistently at Sahalee.

“It is a good, accurate-driver golf course,” said three-time defending Women’s PGA champion Inbee Park.

It’s fascinating, because there does not appear to be one stock approach in attacking this course.

With Sahalee showcasing 10 par-4 holes of 380 yards or longer, including four par 4s that exceed 400 yards, Thompson said she will pull out her driver often — 10 times in a round.

On the flip side, Jutanugarn said she will not even carry a driver in her bag this week. She thinks Sahalee is too narrow to try it.

Henderson said she will go with a gut feeling some of the time.

“Driver is normally the best club in my bag, and it definitely gives me an advantage over a lot of the field,” Henderson said.

The outlying X-factor could be expected cooler temperatures — and weekend rain.

“(Sahalee) plays quite fair with dry conditions,” Park said. “Once it gets some rain and some cold weather, it can be a very, very long golf course.”

Of course, it is never a bad thing to just hit fairways and greens in major championships, even if that means facing longer approach shots.

“The key for everybody is probably to hit it in the fairway,” said Lydia Ko, the world’s No. 1 female golfer. “It’s going to be hard if you’re hitting out of the rough, or in the trees … because (they’re) everywhere.”

Unless you want to take that risk and try to hit it as far down the fairway as possible.

“You might as well take a chance to push it up there, and have a shorter club in there (to the green),” said five-time LPGA Tour winner Angela Stanford.

“I will hit a lot of drivers. There are girls out there … who won’t have to.”

KPMG Women’s PGA Championship

When: Thursday-Sunday.

Where: Sahalee Country Club, Sammamish.

Course: 6,624 yards, par 71.

Defending champion: Inbee Park, South Korea.

Format: 72 holes of stroke play. Top 70 and ties make the cut after the first two rounds.

Featured groups (Thu/Fri): Stacy Lewis-Lydia Ko-Lexi Thompson (8:30 a.m. off No. 10/1:40 p.m. off No. 1); Haru Nomura-Ai Miyazato-Brooke Henderson (9 a.m. off No. 10/2:10 p.m. off No. 1); So Yeon Ryu-Juli Inkster-Karrie Webb (1:10 p.m. off No. 1/8 a.m. off No. 10); Inbee Park-Paula Creamer-Ariya Jutanugarn (1:30 p.m. off No. 1/8:20 a.m. off No. 10); Cristie Kerr-Morgan Pressel-Katie Burnett (1:50 p.m. off No. 1; 8:40 a.m. off No. 10).

Skinny: Welcome to the new youth movement on the LPGA Tour. Up until Anna Nordqvist’s win last week at the ShopRite LPGA Classic, all of the previous 14 tournament winners this season have been 23 or younger. The average winning age has been 21 years, 4 months. And if a rookie is going to win a major, historically the Women’s PGA has been the tournament that has yielded that honor (five times). … Of course, the field will be trying to stop history as well. South Korea’s Inbee Park, the three-time defending champion, is seeking to become the first woman to win the same major four consecutive times. Park has had to withdraw from the past two LPGA Tour events because of a nagging thumb injury. … Lydia Ko, the world’s No. 1 player, is trying to join elite company. If she wins this tournament, she would become the fifth woman to win at least three consecutive majors (following her victories at the 2015 Evian and 2016 ANA Inspiration). … The last wire-to-wire winner of this event the Women’s PGA was Yani Tseng in 2011. She won by 10 strokes at Locust Hill Country Club near Rochester, New York.

The pick: Length and accuracy off the tee will pay dividends for Canadian teenager Brooke Henderson, who nabs her first major title.

Tickets: Thursday/Friday — $20 daily general admission. Saturday/Sunday — $25 daily general admission. All-tournament passes available for $75.

Todd Milles: