Sebonack is beautiful but demanding
Aw, this is kind of nice, isn't it? The word that inevitably comes up when LPGA players talk about Sebonack Golf Club is "beautiful."
"When you're there," Yani Tseng said of the site of this week's U.S. Women's Open, "even though the course is so tough, you see the view and it kind of makes you relax and smile."
Tsk, tsk. The United States Golf Association might not care for that sentiment. Relax at the Women's Open? The USGA's goal is always just the opposite: It prefers players to be as tense and uncomfortable as possible at this championship. You're supposed to suffer at least a little bit even when you play great.
Smile? Are you kidding?
But Tseng is right. The scenery at this course in Southampton, N.Y., including vistas of the Great Peconic Bay, is breathtaking.
The women are playing their most prestigious and oldest major championship in "Great Gatsby" territory. And the USGA would like for Sebonack to have the personality of Daisy Buchanan: gorgeous, capricious, impossible to figure out and, ultimately, not very considerate of anyone's feelings.
"You think this course is sitting pretty right in front of you, and then you let it creep up on you and … you're done," said Paula Creamer, the 2010 Women's Open champ. "You've got to stay on your game all 18 holes."
Sebonack is a new course situated in an extremely old-money area, with famous neighbors such as Shinnecock Hills and the National Golf Links of America. Sebonack, a collaboration between designers Jack Nicklaus and Tom Doak, opened in 2006 and was a sensation almost immediately.
This is the first time since 1987 that the Women's Open has been in the greater New York area and the only time it's been on Long Island.
"It's going to showcase us well on TV," said Stacy Lewis, the top-ranked American at No. 2 overall behind South Korea's Inbee Park, who will be seeking her third major title in a row. "And hopefully, we will get a lot of people watching on TV and coming out there."
Cristie Kerr, the 2007 Women's Open champion, has played Sebonack several times.
"It's definitely everything it's hyped up to be," Kerr said. "It's hard to say exactly how tough it's going to play. It depends on the conditions. Is it going to be firm and fast, or softer because of rain?
"I would say the greens will be right up there in toughness. They've got to be kind of careful with how fast they make them because of their slopes. You are going to have some players who've never played in an Open before, and then are seeing this course for the first time. They are going to be taking their time out there."
Fellow American Brittany Lang also has played at Sebonack and compares its greens to a course that has hosted both the Women's Open and the U.S. Open: Oakmont in Pennsylvania.
"The greens are huge; they're crazy," Lang said. "You could have a million different pin placements. There are so many undulations -- definitely the days before [the tournament] are going to be spent learning those.
"I think it's going to be fun, because it's not your typical USGA course that's tree-lined, with tight fairways and heavy rough like Merion. It's going to be different, but still tough. It's kind of more of a bomber's course -- not as demanding off the tee -- so maybe the longer hitters will do better."
Tale of two courses
Creamer isn't known for her length, but at her best she is accurate and a good scrambler. The comparison to Oakmont's greens would suit her well: That's the course on which she won the 2010 Women's Open. She also has played Sebonack and agrees with her fellow pros' view of it.
"I love it; I think it's a great golf course," Creamer said. "Very demanding in certain areas. You have to be incredibly creative and use your caddie a lot. You're going to be playing shots you'd normally never dream of. It's almost like a British Open in that way -- things like playing 25 feet left of the hole and trusting that."
Juli Inkster, who won the Women's Open in 1999 in Mississippi and 2002 in Kansas, agreed with Lang that Sebonack could favor longer hitters.
"It's pretty generous from the driving aspect of it," Inkster said. "From the fairways on in, that's where you're going to have to be precise. And it's out on Long Island, so the wind is going to play a factor.
"Really, it's almost like two different nines. The front nine is kind of links-like; the back nine more Monterey Peninsula-like: woodsy, dunesy."
Kerr added, "The back nine is the most scenic, and it's just a great layout. You can go through the entire [back] nine, and you have to position all your shots. With a one- or two-shot lead going into those last three holes, it could be really tough."
However, Kerr also anticipates that the par-5 18th hole will offer some scoring chances, which could make things interesting on the final day.
"If you hit it in the wrong spot on 18, it can be really tough," Kerr said. "But I think it's a birdieable hole, one that people will be able to take advantage of. With the right wind conditions, you'll be able to get there in two. So it will be a really exciting last hole."
Tseng, who had brilliant 2010 and '11 seasons but cooled off last year and has yet to win in 2013, said she thinks she will have to plan her trademark aggressiveness.
"You need to pick some holes where you say, 'This is a go-for-it hole,'" Tseng said. "But some places where the pin will be, you just can't aim it there. You can hit a perfect shot and still carry over [the green].
"You can hit it to the left side of the green and finish on the right side. There are only certain spots where you can place the ball. So sometimes when you need to take your medicine, you just do it. But I've been looking forward to it."