PEBBLE BEACH, California — It has been 72 years since the world’s top female golfers played a competitive round on one of the most famous golf courses in the history of the game. The Weathervane Transcontinental Women’s Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links in 1951, won by Patty Berg, was the last LPGA event at the legendary venue that also hosts the US Women’s Open.
The importance of the women finally playing here is lost on no one. A venue that has hosted countless PGA Tour events and the men’s US Open six times, now welcomes the best women in the game to its grounds and offers a unique test that offers a different perspective on the world of golf through the shots of some of them on Pebble Beach allows for the world’s best ball racket.
“I saw Tiger’s win at the US Open and Gary Woodland, he won the US Open so I watched everything,” said world No. 1 Jin Young Ko. “I’m really looking forward to playing this golf course. I really wanted to play this golf course.”
From established stars to rising phenomena, whoever emerges victorious, one thing is certain: a women’s event at Pebble Beach is long overdue.
Here are four storylines to keep an eye on this week:
Big droughts for big stars
The top three players in the world rankings – Nelly Korda, Jin Young Ko and Lydia Ko – have all earned their spots on those spots, but it’s been some time since any of them have won any major trophies.
Korda, who may be the face of women’s soccer right now, has had three top-10 finishes at Majors in the last two years, but her only major win came at the 2021 Women’s PGA Championship. After returning from a back injury at this year’s PGA, Korda said she was 100% healthy but ended up missing the cut — her first missed cut at a major since the 2021 US Women’s Open.
“I had a two-way fault on Baltusrol and didn’t make any putts either,” Korda said. “I spent a lot of time on the shooting range.”
Ko caught fire at the end of last season, finishing in the top 10 in three of the final Majors of the year. She also added three LPGA wins in 2022 but missed the cut and finished in her previous two Major appearances in 2023 the 57th place. Your last win at a major? The 2016 Chevron Championship.
“I think that’s why it’s so much harder to win, because there’s just a larger group of names that are in the running,” Ko said of the depth on the tour, but conceded that her game hasn’t been hers lately requirements met. “I think it’s closer than it was maybe a few months ago… we’re moving in the right direction.”
Ko is the youngest winner of the group, having finished first in the Founders Cup in May and the HSBC Women’s World Championship in March. Still, she has failed to increase her Major total, which sits at two, after winning both the Chevron and Evian championships in 2019. When asked Tuesday if she felt the need to win a Major, Ko didn’t hesitate
“No,” she said. “I just want to have a good time with my family and friends. That is my goal at the moment.”
It’s a testament to the depth and burgeoning youth of the game (more on that in a moment) that the game’s best were unable to contribute to its main outcome, and yet it’s clear that these three players consistently thrived above that Cut off the rest of the field. While there’s no expressed urgency to win another Major, they’ve all detailed the importance of playing that Major at this venue. Putting it on your resume would mean more than just a number.
Michelle Wie West’s Last Dance
While it felt like Wie’s departure from the golf world came during last year’s US Open at Pine Needles, fittingly Pebble Beach will be the venue for her final competitive tournament as she retires after 18 years as a pro.
“It’s going to be weird because when I finished Pine Needles I was like, oh, but next year I’ve got Pebble,” Wie West said. “There’s no Pebble next year.”
The prolonged finality of her career has allowed Wie West to reflect profusely on her time in the sport and look at it from one perspective. And although she said she would like to make her final leap to 18th in Sunday’s final group, she also admitted a more realistic goal this week is to enjoy her swan song at a tournament that served to do so has to demonstrate her legacy and role as a player Ambassador of Women’s Football.
Leading up to Pebble, Wie West took center stage, not only praising the depth of women’s football and some of its rising stars, but also endorsing and affirming the importance of women’s football in the same venues as the men’s. This year the PGA championship was held in Baltusrol and the USGA will take women’s soccer to places like Riviera, Oakland Hills, Oakmont and LACC for the next 20 years.
“I think going to legendary venues is a more sustainable improvement for the tour because it increases media value, and you have to increase media value to make more money,” Wie West said. “The fans are the ones who add media value. They love watching TV and spotting the courts we play on.”
Perhaps most notably, Wie West is now hosting a new LPGA event — the Mizuho Americas Open, which Zhang won in her pro debut — featuring AJGA players who received a travel stipend from the tournament. As West also said, she is in constant contact with LPGA Commissioner Mollie Marcoux and is ready to commit as much as possible to the advancement of women’s football when she fully retires.
“I just hope to be a sounding board whenever she needs it or whenever anybody on tour needs it,” Wie West said. “They all know I want to help and I just let them come to me whenever they need it.”
As for the immediate after Pebble Beach, the 2014 US Women’s Open champion is sure of at least one of them.
“I’ll keep my clubs in the darkest corner of my garage,” she said. “Let it sit there for a while.”
The Rose Zhang Show
As Wie West waves goodbye, Zhang greets them. The most decorated amateur player in the sport’s history comes to the US Open with plenty of intrigue after hitting a course record of 63 at the 2022 Carmel Cup on Pebble.
Two tournaments and a win in her pro career, Zhang has made a great impression on her first and second attempts and is this week’s betting favorite. At Baltusrol, she almost tore past the frontrunners during the PGA Championship, finishing tied in eighth place despite not doing her best. The result fueled the fire even further, so it’s only a matter of time before she lands a major.
Having seen Zhang dominate the amateur ranks and then translate that into a win at Wie West’s event, such notions do not seem misguided. So far, it seems somehow impossible to both underestimate and overestimate them. Their cap has yet to be reached, and their play has made the hyperbolic feel applicable.
Not only does Pebble offer a big stage, but one that suits your game well. While it will be interesting to see how she manages the length of the course (especially when the wind picks up), her consistency and accuracy will shine, giving her the opportunity to hit Pebble’s small greens again and again.
“Apparently I hit all 18 greens [in regulation]she said nonchalantly of that historic Carmel Cup round. “It’s just been a pretty dreamy week.”
Zhang’s even-tempered demeanor is paradoxically at odds with the attention and excitement that seems to surround her. Hearing this talked about is a concerted decision.
“I’ve always realized that professional golf is going to be very difficult,” Zhang said. “I’ve already prepared myself for all the scenarios where I can just grind but not have the greatest luck, and that puts me in a position where I can expect anything. If things go well, I just go along with it.”
It will be fascinating to watch the development of this approach, especially if it continues to win. Doing that in a place like Pebble at a tournament like the US Open could kick-start the hype train if it’s not already there, cementing their place as the sport’s next big star.
The youth movement goes on
Although Zhang could be the headliner, if the last few Majors show any sign of it, we could have another first-time Major winner ahead of us, especially a young one. Eight of the last 10 big winners were all first-time players, and six of them were aged 25 or younger at the time of their win.
“I love that all great champions are so young,” said Wie West. “That means the next generation is here.”
For all the talk about Zhang, she’s far from the only one who’s found success at a young age. Ruoning Yin just won the 2023 PGA Championship at just 20 years old, while 2023 Chevron Championship winner Lilia Vu just turned 25.
Amari Avery, an 18-year-old whose fame extends well beyond the golf course, leads a field of 28 amateurs this week including Saki Baba, who won the 2022 US Women’s Amateur, and Anna Davis, who already has an Augusta National Women’s Amateur has titles for her 17-year-old name. At 14, Angela Zhang became the youngest player to ever compete in the US Women’s Open.
“They’re playing better than me at the moment,” Ko said of the younger players on tour. “I think it’s really cool to see different names popping up on the leaderboard. I think names that might not be as familiar to other people who are new to the LPGA. It’s just great to have that variety and variability between players.”