The 18th at Mission Hills is one of the best finishing holes in golf. Its a great risk-reward hole. The last two years theyve had the tee up, which definitely favors long hitters like Brittany, provided they hit a good tee shot. She did that on Sunday, drawing her ball to the left-center of the fairway and giving herself a manageable 210 yards to the back-right pin location. She then hit a tremendous approach shot into the middle of the green which caught the ridge in the back and drifted down near the hole, 4 feet away. She hit it exactly where she needed to give herself a chance at eagle and an opportunity to win the tournament.
Brittany is one of the few players on the LPGA who can hit that green in two ' and stop it ' because shes so long and she can flight the ball really high. I was not a high-ball hitter, so I preferred it when they had the tee back because it removed any temptation I might have to go for the green in two; plus, the strength of my game was always 100 yards and in, so Id rather come in with a higher, softer club like a wedge than, say, a 7-wood. If I had an 80- or 90-yard wedge in for my third shot, I still had a great chance to make birdie.
I remember one year several of the players in my group tried to hit the green in two only to see our shots roll off the back into the water. Because its an island green, you have to carry the water and theres no room on the front of the green to land the ball. You need to give yourself a little margin for error, so you try to land your approach shot about 10 yards onto the surface, but when you come in with a longer club the ball is going to release another 20 yards and you could send it over the back. Even if you do manage to hit the green in two its no gimmie birdie by any stretch. You could be chipping from the back fringe with the green running away from you or you might have a 50-footer. It is easier to go for the green in two when the pin is on the right, as it was Sunday, because theres more room to borrow on that side. But it takes a great shot, especially on Sunday with a major championship on the line.
The last five holes at Mission Hills are very difficult, not just the 18th. The 14th is a tough par-3 which requires an accurate iron shot over water; No. 15 is a tricky driving hole, as we saw on Sunday when Cristie hit her tee shot left, out of bounds; the 16th plays to an elevated green; and 17 is the longest par 3 on the course and again plays uphill. All three players hit great shots into there on Sunday and had excellent birdie opportunities, but all three left with pars. Had any one of them made birdie it might have been a different outcome.
In the end, it was Lincicome who got to take the famous plunge into Poppies Pond just off the 18th green. Its a great tradition, the Poppie Leap, and something very unique to the LPGA. I remember the first time I had the privilege of jumping in (2001) and the pond wasnt as clear as it is now, to put it nicely. Someone told me not to put my head under water, but I was so excited at the time that I wasnt thinking about the color of the water. I dove in head-first because thats how I always did it growing up. The following year, I was a little more cautious and escorted the daughter of my caddie, Terry McNamara, into the pond. On my third and final jump in 2005, I won by eight shots so I had a lot of time to think about what Id do. We all think about different scenarios and ways of doing it, and how we can make it fun. On the last one, I thought itd be nice to have my sister, Charlotta, join me. However, this time, we both went in feet-first.
Annika Sorenstam will be writing 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 her Academy, Foundation, Course Design, Financial Group, fashion line with Cutter & Buck as well as her wine and fragrance lines.