CHAMPIONSHIPS
Stats of the Month: A Record Return to Pine Needles; Bonus Golf in Bay State October 13, 2021 By Justin Ray

Past Champs’ Performance a Predictor of Success at Pine Needles

Next June 2-5, the U.S. Women’s Open will return to Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines, N.C. This will be the fourth time the venue has hosted the championship, breaking a tie with Atlantic City (N.J.) Country Club for most in U.S. Women’s Open history.

Three stellar ball-strikers won the previous three Opens held at Pine Needles. In the 1996 LPGA season, Annika Sorenstam ranked second on tour in greens in regulation and ball striking. At that year’s U.S. Women’s Open, she also excelled off the tee, ranking second in the field for the week in total driving. Having also won in 1995, Sorenstam was the sixth back-to-back U.S. Women’s Open champion in history.

In 2001, Karrie Webb brought a similar statistical pedigree to North Carolina. The Australian ranked in the top 3 that season in greens in regulation, ball striking and total driving. Webb was phenomenal at Pine Needles, topping the field in both greens hit and total driving on her waltz to an eight-shot margin of victory. Six years later, Cristie Kerr brought her balanced attack to the Tar Heel State, and left with her first major championship win. For the season, Kerr ranked in the top-25 on the LPGA Tour in greens in regulation, total driving and ball striking.

History says that players cannot fake it around Pine Needles – especially in a U.S. Women’s Open. Whoever wins the championship in 2022 will have to bring their absolute best, tee-to-green.

Primed for a Playoff at Brookline?

It seems difficult to believe, but the U.S. Open has not had a tie atop the leaderboard after 72 holes in more than 13 years. The last U.S. Open to go to a playoff was the famed duel between Rocco Mediate and Tiger Woods at Torrey Pines in 2008. We all know how that ended – Woods, in a mythologizing performance – battled the journeyman Mediate on a shattered leg, eventually beating him in sudden death.

But could next summer’s U.S. Open venue break the playoff drought? In 2022, the U.S. Open heads to The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. Not only was there a playoff the last time the Open was held at Brookline (in 1988, when Curtis Strange beat Nick Faldo), there has been a playoff each of the last six times the U.S. Open was contested in the state of Massachusetts. Starting with the 1908 edition at Myopia Hunt Club, when Fred McLeod knocked off fellow Scot Willie Smith in an extra 18 holes, Opens in the Bay State have always given the fans extra golf to decide the winner.

We have been close to a playoff several times since the 2008 classic: five times in the last 13 years the championship has been decided by a single stroke. That includes last summer’s return to Torrey Pines, when Jon Rahm finished one shot ahead of Louis Oosthuizen.

Justin Ray is the head of content for Twenty First Group. He has also worked as a senior researcher at ESPN and Golf Channel.