I can tell you its not easy playing with the lead, especially when youre the favorite as Cristie Kerr was on Sunday. Its hard to stay calm and focused on your own game because there are so many distractions, none bigger than the thought of hoisting that winners trophy at the end of the day.
Cristie mentioned that she felt different than she did the first three days, and that's exactly what happens in majors. She seemed so flawless the first three days, and she putted beautifully on the front nine yesterday. She made a lot of big putts, especially par putts. However, its hard for anyone to continue making 6- and 10-footers for par with all of the pressure that the back nine of a major brings on Sunday. Throw in the fact that Candie Kung had caught her and others were climbing up the board, and that certainly adds to the nerves.
Ji made some huge putts down the stretch. I think the big advantage she had over Kerr was that even though she was in the final pairing, very few eyes were focused on her. What I mean is no one was expecting her to win; she probably didnt expect to win, either. When you dont have those expectations, you can be more aggressive and play your own game. I had a similar situation when I won the U.S. Women's Open at the Broadmoor Golf Club in 1995.
I remember trailing Meg Mallon by five shots heading into the final round. All of the pressure was squarely on her shoulders ' she was in the last group and had the big crowds following her, and I was playing in relative obscurity in front of her. But somewhere on the back nine, I caught her. I remember looking at the scoreboard because I always liked to know where I stood, and seeing my name at the top of the leaderboard for the first time. Luckily I was able to battle my nerves and hang in there. However, it was much easier sliding in there on the back nine than sleeping on the lead.
I thought the course looked fabulous on television. I spoke to my old caddie, Terry McNamara (currently on Momoko Uedas bag), at length this weekend and he said Saucon Valley was very fair. He said it put a premium on all of your shots, and that it was one of the best U.S. Open venues hes seen in the last 10 years. It was fun to see what they did with a lot of the hole locations on the weekend, as far as moving the tees around and tucking the pins in the corners and on the slopes and such. It makes you think: Do I play aggressive here and try and make birdie or do I lay back and take the safer route?
I am sure Paula [Creamer] wishes she could get another crack at the 10th hole, which she tripled on Saturday. That is the U.S. Open for you ' it leaves you scratching your head sometimes. Anyone who has ever gone inside the ropes has had that happen. Roger Maltbie made a great comment when he said something like, Anyone whos never had that happen, speak your peace now.
I know I have had some bad holes cost me a few majors. I remember making double bogey on the 18th hole in the third round of the Kraft Nabisco one year, and bogey on the 72nd hole at the 2003 U.S. Womens Open at Pumpkin Ridge. I hit a perfect drive to a reachable par five and made bogey when a par would have gotten me in a playoff. That one really hurt!
Those instances drive you crazy, but that is all part of this great game. It is why we all love it, and it is why we all work to be better prepared the next time around. I am sure Cristie and Paula both learned valuable lessons, and I can assure you they will be back again. For now, congratulations to Ji and a great win!
Annika Sorenstam writes a column for GolfChannel.com following all four LPGA majors and the Solheim Cup this season. Sorenstam played in 55 majors during her career, winning 10 and finishing in the top-10 31 times. Sorenstam now spends her time focusing on her Annika brand of businesses, which include the Annika Academy, Foundation, Course Design, Financial Group, apparel collection with Cutter & Buck as well as her signature wine and fragrance.