KOHLER, Wis. – Meg Mallon remembers crossing paths with architect Pete Dye after playing his Blackwolf Run design at the U.S. Women’s Open in 1998.
Mallon opened the championship with a nightmarish quintuple-bogey 9.
She shot 77-76 and missed the cut.
“Pete Dye comes up to me at a dinner function there,” Mallon said. “And he says, 'Meg, if I would have taken a 9 on the first hole, I would have shot myself.’”
Mallon didn’t miss a beat.
“Actually, Pete,” she said. “I was thinking about shooting you.”
The U.S. Women’s Open makes its return to Blackwolf Run this week. While Dye and Blackwolf Run owner Herb Kohler survived without bullet-proof vests in ‘98, there were lots of casualties, figuratively.
An image remains seared into the memories of folks who were sitting around the 18th hole on the Friday of that U.S. Women’s Open.
Players don’t normally declare a winner halfway through the championship, but they did that year.
Nancy Lopez and Jane Geddes joined Mallon marching to the 18th hole while waving towels like white flags at the end of their putters. They all missed the cut, but it might be the defining image of the championship.
Yes, Se Ri Pak claimed the U.S. Women’s Open trophy that year, but Blackwolf Run was the winner.
That course whipped everyone.
“It was a surrender,” Mallon said of the white flags. “It was a spontaneous thing. It was the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been playing golf, and we were just exhausted. We decided we had to do something.”
Pak prevailed in a playoff despite posting weekend scores of 75-76.
How many major championship winners claimed their titles playing the weekend in 9 over par?
Pak got into a playoff with Jenny Chuasiriporn with a 6-over-par total.
That remains the highest 72-hole score of a winner in a women’s major in 36 years.
The week was the women’s version of the Massacre at Winged Foot.
“I remember some of the player reactions after Jenny Chuasiriporn made that long putt at the 72nd hole to force a playoff,” Mallon said. “It was, `Oh my God, they have to play that course again.’”
As picturesque as it is wicked, Blackwolf Run is golf’s Enchanted Forest.
There is magic there, as Pak proved inspiring an entire nation of future South Koreans with her victory. There just might be some black magic there, too. This is a golf course that broke the hearts and wills of the game’s toughest players.
“I was afraid of the golf course,” Lopez says today. “It intimidated me.”
This was back when Lopez was still a factor in majors, just a year after she finished runner-up to Alison Nicholas in the U.S. Women’s Open. Lopez, though, arrived at Blackwolf Run knowing she was nearing a last chance to win her first U.S. Women’s Open.
David Albrecht, the head professional at Blackwolf Run, was there at the 18th watching Lopez wave her white towel.
“Nancy Lopez was definitely the crowd favorite,” Albrecht said. “She is such a sweet lady. She came in early for practice rounds, and she was so nice to everyone who reached out to her. She was like Arnold Palmer that way. So many people were there wanting to see her win. So, it was somewhat sad to see her miss the cut.”
Lopez can laugh now about how tough Blackwolf Run was.
At that first hole in ’98, while watching Mallon try to blast her way out of the forest, Lopez’s caddie could see some angst on Lopez’s face.
“Can I get you something?” he asked her.
“Two valium,” Lopez answered.
How tough was the course? Dottie Pepper said she cried in a shower after one round, and she ended up tying for 11th.
Kohler is confident Dye’s design will test skill as well as temperament again this week.
“I was intrigued by a man that could mess with the minds of the professional, get them agitated, and get them off their game just a little bit.” Kohler said.
The course will play this week to 6,984 yards, more than 500 yards longer than it played in ’98.
While it won’t be the longest U.S. Women’s Open venue in history, it will be the longest played at sea level. The Broadmoor in Colorado played to a record 7,047 yards last year, but the high altitude didn’t made it feel shorter.
The USGA is cutting the women a break this time around Blackwolf Run. It will play as a par 72 instead of a par 71. The seventh hole will play as it was naturally designed, as a par 5 instead of a par 4.
That doesn’t mean the test won’t still be fierce. Kohler ordered a renovation of Blackwolf Run’s grasses in 2009 and ‘10. With new A4 bentgrass on the greens and Memorial bentgrass on the fairways, the course can play a lot firmer and faster, given Mother Nature’s cooperation.
“This will definitely be the toughest test of the women’s year,” said the USGA’s Ben Kimball, director of the U.S. Women’s Open.