Saturday, June 25, 2011

What to Expect from the Back 9 at Locust Hill the Rest of Moving Day

Here's a little update of last year's scouting report of Locust Hill Country Club, the site of the Wegmans LPGA Championship. As I mentioned earlier, I followed Se Ri Pak and Ji-Yai Shin on the back 9 today, so I'm focusing on how they did, pin positions, and more. I wasn't able to walk the course on Wednesday as the rain was pouring down and I wasn't back until about 11 this morning, so I was struck by how much the course had changed since Tuesday afternoon, when I walked the 6th through 9th with Mika Miyazato's pro-am group.

#10 413-yard Par 4

Even with the longer elevated tee, Ji-Yai Shin was able to carry the trap that pinches the fairway from about 215-230 yards out, but she found the left rough, while Pak outdrove her by about 25 yards and put it in the middle of the severely downhill, right-to-left-sloping fairway. With the pin on the lower left tier, near the back of the green, Shin hit a great hybrid that just didn't hold the green, while Pak chunked her mid-iron and ended up just short of the green. Both made good chips to about 4 or 5 feet and sank their putts. This was a good example of how the wetter fairways and thick rough make it very difficult to judge how the ball is going to come off your club--and how the greens are very soft in some places yet relatively firm in others, making it difficult to anticipate or control what your ball is going to do when it lands on the green.

#11 511-yard Par 5

Last year, I wrote:

There's a blind tee shot (you can just spot the tops of the bleachers by the green from the tee) and a creek about 310 out, but OB right is much more dangerous and the trees on each side of the fairway seem to funnel in on you but really funnel out. If you hit your drive past about 240, you're going to have a downhill lie on your attempt to reach the green in 2, which isn't necessarily a bad thing b/c you're likely to get some extra roll to compensate for the slight uphill grade to the slightly elevated green. But with traps guarding the false front, a ridge behind the green, and a bump on the left side that looks designed to shoot balls off the green, it might be a smarter play for most in the field to treat this as a 3-shot hole.

What struck me walking the hole again today was how narrow that tee shot is, even though both Shin and Pak hit it, and how dangerous it is to miss right. The 2nd shot was definitely a lay-up for both of them, although they each hit at least 5-wood, but with the landing area so narrow, and getting narrower the closer to the green you try to get, it was no surprise that Shin missed the fairway just to the left while Pak missed it right. Neither got close to the accessible pin from where they were, although Pak his the more impressive shot--a lob wedge that stopped quickly despite coming from out of what looked like cabbage a mere yard off the fairway! No birdies there for either of them.

#12 361-yard Par 4

From last year:

It's almost a blind tee shot; you can usually just see the tip of the flag from the tee. With both overhanging trees and OB right pushing you leftwards off the tee, but with some trees on the left interfering with the left side of the elevated, right-to-left sloping green and a huge and deep trap after a creek that runs beneath it, you have to be very accurate with your driver or 3-wood to have a good shot at a pin on this hole. Tee balls between 220-240 and 260-280 will find the flattest parts of the undulating fairway. Balls that land past the trap but on the very front of the green will kick forward, while there seems to be a collection area on the left (a "false side," if you will).

Shin put her drive in the 1st flat right in the middle of the fairway, but Pak rushed her downswing and pulled her drive what seemed like way left but ended up only being 10 feet into the rough and not blocked by trees. Both players missed the green short right, in a little neck of the fairway to the right of the trap guarding the front pin. It was an incredibly fast chip, as the left side of the green sloped sharply downhill to the left, and Shin's chip rolled 8 feet by after nearly hitting the flag. Pak took a lob wedge and left it 4 feet short or so. Both made great par saves. That pin is in a very difficult spot. It's real easy to 3-putt from the back of the green if you try to avoid that front trap, while a miss left puts you in heavy rough. Par is very good on this hole today.

#13 386-yard Par 4

From last year:

The little creek looks a little farther out there from the elevated tee than it really is--it's only about a 200-yard carry--and the fairway is wide, so players have a big incentive to go after their drives and climb the uphill slope past the creek as far as possible. They'll be hitting into a long, relatively narrow, and sharply-tiered green (kind of like a shelf in the very back of the green). There's a small bunker to the front right of the green that you can't see from the fairway (at least it was a surprise to me when I got far enough up the hill to spot it!) and 2 deep ones on either side more even with the middle-back part of the green.

With the pin near the right-center of the green, almost at the back of the lower tier, and a left-to-right win blowing, I thought the shot was to try to fade one in, have it bounce or roll up the backstop, and roll back down and to the right toward the pin, but Shin inexplicably pulled her approach into the left front trap and Pak decided to stay below the hole, putting her approach about 12 feet short of the flag. Pak sunk her birdie putt, while Shin missed a tricky 5-footer.

#14 400-yard Par 4

From last year:

The narrow fairway slopes right to left at first, but the hole curls slightly to the left at the end, where overhanging pine trees and a creek guard the front of a green with a false front and a collection area in the front left and bunkers on either side guard its middle and back.

Shin pulled her drive to the left side of the fairway while trying to get a little extra out of it, but Pak put her drive in perfect position on the right edge of the fairway. Shin played an aggressive drawing hybrid that just skirted the trees on the fairway and avoided the big tree guarding the left of the green, while Pak stuck a mid-iron pin-high at the back of the green. I didn't see their putts, as I was headed to the 15th green, but from the sound of the crowd (or lack thereof), neither birdied. In fact, Shin bogeyed it!

#15 150-yard Par 3

From last year:

I saw Ai Miyazato make a great birdie putt on this big, 2-tiered green. The back tier bulges a little, especially on the left, but there's a relatively flat area in the front left of the green on the lower tier. Expect a lot of birdies when the pin's down there. But with an elevated tee and a relatively open feel around the green compared to most holes at Locust Hill, look for any wind to affect approach shots more here than usual.

The pin was in the accessible lower tier, and players had a choice of landing it short or using the backstop to get more aggressive shots to back up. Pak pulled her short iron into the left trap and failed to get her sandie when she blasted a 5-footer through the left-to-right break. Shin just barely carried the front traps, got a good leftward kick toward the pin, but missed a 15-footer for birdie. The volunteer I talked to said he'd seen a lot of putts of around 10 feet but only 1 drop. Oh, and Brittany Lincicome hit the pin on 1 hop and had her ball drop into the hole--and bounce out. I would expect a lot of birdies on this hole.

#16 356-yard Par 4

From last year:

The fairway here slopes left to right and is uphill until about 200 yards out, but stays relatively flat until about 270. The green slopes severely back to front, tilts a little left to right, and is protected by 4 bunkers surrounding it and a mound behind it. Odds are you're going to have a downhill putt on this hole.

This is one of the tee boxes they moved back and to the right to emphasize the dogleg as much as possible. Pak outdrove Shin on what looked like a great line from the tee box, but whereas Shin stayed in the left side of the fairway and stuck her approach shot to kick-in range, Pak had to play a clever little shot from very heavy rough 1 yard to the left of the fairway to give herself a 12-foot uphill birdie chance from the middle of the green to the back-left pin. Somehow she read it going right to left, but the ball actually went a little left-to-right. She was steaming as she came off the green.

#17 478-yard Par 5

From last year:

Mentioned by many players in the media guide as their favorite hole on the course, this is one of the few tee shots where the longer hitters may have a slight advantage. The uphill, left-to-right sloping fairway seems to feed into a bunker on the right side of the fairway that's sitting about 230-250 yards from the back tees. If you can carry it past this trap with a slight draw and keep it on the right side of the fairway (where there's a little more room than you might have expected from the tee), you'll have a great view of the dogleg left, from a flat area that extends from about 220 to 100 yards from the green. There's a little depression between 60 and 100 yards from the green, which I'd try to avoid, but trying to get past it brings the 2 huge, deep, and long traps that guard both sides of the green and extend well in front of it into play. This is the hole I most wanted to play because I wanted to see if I could carry the trap and hit a good fairway wood or hybrid to the green, which is 2-tiered horizontally, with some weird subtleties that I couldn't catch from a distance. You can still make a birdie staying short of the trap, keeping at least 100 yards away from the green, and hitting an accurate wedge or 9-iron, but what's the fun in that?

Here's how wet the course was playing: Pak smashed her drive, but only ended up even with the trap, while Shin's drive was also in the fairway but just short of it. Both players went for broke, hitting good fairway woods, but Shin ended up going through the fairway and into some deep rough just short of the green and Pak got robbed when she hit a perfect fade that was tracking to the green, but landed too close to the front right trap guarding the green and slid straight right inton the rough just past it instead of bouncing forward onto the green. With the pin in a very tricky back-left position--with a ridge to its right kicking everything left and making it very difficult to be very aggressive on an uphill chip from short of the green, neither Shin nor Pak could get very close and neither could make their birdie putts.

#18 396-yard Par 4

From last year:

This looked like the longest par-4 on the course to me from the tee and for a hole where water doesn't really come into play (unless you spray it way right toward the 2nd green), it's probably the most intimidating drive on the course. That's because the narrow fairway seems to go straight up toward the clubhouse and get narrower as it goes. All I know is that the hole doesn't flatten out until you get to the long, narrow green that's guarded by 2 front traps on either side of it. The 1st third of the green seems flatter than the rest, which (you guessed it) slopes from back to front. Now surrounded by grandstands, this green is probably even tougher to hit (at least in your head), because you have to worry about an errant shot ending up someplace weird. I would not want to have to par this hole to win the tournament.

They moved the tee back, removed a lot of trees near the tee and green, and made a very difficult closing hole that much tougher. As before when Shin tried to reach back for more with her driver, she pulled it left, while Pak smashed her drive but had it kicked into the right rough by the left-to-right sloping fairway. Shin couldn't reach the green from some gnarly stuff about 20 feet left, but she hit a good fairway wood layup about 20 yards short of the front of the green. Pak had what looked like a decent lie from about 155 yards from the center of the green when I looked at it, but could only advance her hybrid about 140 yards. Both made very good chips, Shin pleasing the crowd with a bounce-and-spinner that used the backstop to back up to about 5 feet above the hole, while Pak kept hers about the same distance below the hole, and both made great par saves.

So that's my updated scouting report. I'd expect to see birdies on the odd-numbered holes and bogeys on the even-numbered, both from their layouts and where their holes were located. Let's see how the leaders do on them!

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