Sahalee’s signature 17th hole could change momentum — good or bad

“That’s a tough green,” says Lexi Thompson, the world’s top-ranked American golfer, of Sahalee’s No. 17.
“That’s a tough green,” says Lexi Thompson, the world’s top-ranked American golfer, of Sahalee’s No. 17. Staff file, 2002

An elevated tee warrants a clear look at all the hazards — a winding pond to the front and right of the green, and bunkers to the left and rear.

The par-3 17th hole could swing momentum, good or bad, this weekend at the KPMG Women’s PGA championship at Sahalee Country Club.

“That’s a tough green,” said Lexi Thompson, the world’s top-ranked American golfer.

“Even though it’s downhill, my 7- and 6-iron rolled out to seven to eight yards on the green. If they put a front pin, it will definitely be demanding.”

Sahalee’s signature hole played a big role the last time a PGA of America major came around.

It was at the 1998 PGA Championship: With Vijay Singh holding a one-shot lead over Steve Stricker, both golfers hit their tee shots in a greenside bunker.

Singh got up and down for par. Stricker didn’t — and the star from Fiji won his first major title.

What makes No. 17 an interesting challenge is four different tee boxes. It is listed to play at 181 yards, but could play significantly shorter on certain days.

“It’s really hard to stop the ball on these greens,” said Inbee Park, the world’s No. 2-ranked golfer and the three-time defending champ at the Women’s PGA.

“A couple of holes are very, very firm. And, obviously, on No. 17, if they stick the pins on the side, it’s going to be a very challenging hole. But, I think you’ll definitely take a par on that hole for four days.”

Any pin placement along the green — which extends about 30 yards front-to-back, and is nearly as wide — could be pivotal.

“I think (No.) 17 will definitely be a good hole to make a little twist on, especially on Sunday,” Thompson said.

Injury hinders Park

Park made a definitive statement about the state of her health during her Wednesday afternoon press conference.

“I’m not going to die because of the thumb pain,” she said. “That’s the good news.”

The bad news?

Park’s left thumb is still inflamed in the tendon and ligament — which caused her to withdraw from her last two tournaments.

“It’s just bothering enough to affect the swing,” she said.

Park, who would clinch a spot in the LPGA Hall of Fame after completing Thursday’s first round, said she has to decide week-to-week if she’ll play.

“It’s a really hard time of the year to kind of think about having a big break or taking a long time off,” Park said. “I’ve really got to think about it after this week.”

Lee-Park connection

As part of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship media day last month, Park threw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Mariners game to Dae-Ho Lee, a fellow South Korean.

The baseball slugger apparently was so impressed with the golfer’s new-found aptitude for pitching that he gave her a phone call when she arrived in Seattle this week.

Park said Lee can’t make the tournament — it conflicts with the Mariners’ seven-game homestand — but she provided a few of his friends with tickets.

“Since I got to know him, I’ve really been watching baseball and seeing how he was doing,” Park said. “… Even if he doesn’t come here, I was really thankful that he called and really cared about this tournament.”

Lauren Smith: 360-754-5473, @smithlm12