The AIG Women’s Open returns to Carnoustie Golf Links for the first time in a decade to what feels like a clean slate for the best female golfers in the world.
In 2011, Carnoustie hosted the Women’s Open for the first time. Jean van de Velde’s triple-bogey collapse during The Open in 1999 was still very much a daunting memory for the women who competed there.
“When you come on this golf course, you’re going to think about him,” Yani Tseng said in 2011. Tseng, however, birdied the 18th to close out a four-stroke victory.
Now, more than two decades removed from the Frenchman’s meltdown, the ladies are seeing Carnoustie with fresh eyes. Among those who first played in 2011 are Brittany Lincicome, Stacy Lewis and Inbee Park, who each struggled to recall their initial experience.
“I was really trying to remember how I did in 2011,” said Park, who finished T-7 that year. “I knew that I had a good result, but I played the course yesterday, about 15 holes and I don't really remember the golf course except for that I had a sausage roll after No. 10.”
Lydia Ko, meanwhile, didn’t play her first major championship until 2012 and is seeing Carnoustie for the first time this week. And while van de Velde’s name never came up among the players who met with the media on Tuesday, Carnoustie’s reputation for being a difficult test was a major topic.
“I've heard a lot about this place. I've watched it when the guys played a few years ago, and obviously it's held [The Open] quite a lot of times,” Ko said Tuesday. “This might be the trickiest British Open I've played yet.”
Carnoustie forces players to be strategic with every shot, with pot bunkers well positioned throughout the course. In 2018, when The Open was last staged at the famed golf links, there were reportedly 112 bunkers on the course. And the final three holes at Carnoustie’s Championship course are some of the toughest in the world. Tom Watson, who won his first of five Opens at Carnoustie, called the par-3 16th the hardest par 3 in golf.
“I didn't really realize that quite as much in 2011 how tough that final stretch really is, so that's kind of something that's definitely noticeable this year,” said defending champion Sophia Popov, who played her first AIG Women’s Open at Carnoustie in 2011. “It's playing very similar.”
Players will have to contend with more than a dozen bunkers between hole Nos. 17 and 18. The Barry Burn also winds its way across both par 4s, the same burn that helped wash away van de Velde’s hopes in ‘99.
“It's a tough hole and it's a great finishing stretch,” Hannah Green said about the 18th. “I'd also say 17 is just as hard as 18, and also 16. So, there's a lot of tough holes coming in, so I feel like whoever is leading come Sunday probably wants quite a big lead prior to playing those last few.”
During a practice round, Green says the 18th hole played downwind but that will likely change over the course of the championship. And how the wind blows will be a major factor in determining how tough Carnoustie plays during the final major of the year. For Tuesday’s practice round, wind gusts upwards of 28 mph were forecast, but much more benign conditions are expected for the start of the championship with winds expected at no more than 15 mph on Thursday.
“It's a really windy-dependent golf course, and when it's windy this golf course can get really, really tough and when it's not windy, obviously it's scorable,” said Park, who won in 2015 at Turnberry. “We'll just wait and see what happens.”