This week’s Ricoh Women’s British Open is an “expect the unexpected” situation. After all, six of the last seven major winners were first-timers, so experience is no longer an indicator. Neither, anymore, is being an American; only six of the last 31 major champions have been from the U.S.
On top of that, this year’s British is being held at quirky Sunningdale, an uncharacteristically hilly parkland course outside London. Among Sunningdale’s endearing oddities: It opens with two par-5s (Karen Stupples started eagle, albatross in the final round on her way to the 2004 championship); the 9th does not return to the clubhouse (but it’s not a links); neighborhood dog walkers are always in play; an on-course snack stand specializes in the greasiest but most delicious butter-slathered sausage sandwich on the planet; it has golf’s most famous 18th-hole gathering tree that is not in Augusta; and there are three bars in the clubhouse. In short, the golf is O.K., but the experience is one not to miss.
A decidedly un-British course, it favors no one unless rain makes the par-5s unreachable for short hitters. So who will win? For sentimental reasons, keep an eye on Annika Sorenstam as she plays her final major before retirement, although it seems to me that Annika underestimated the emotion of what has become a farewell tour. I’ve never seen her try as hard and get as little out of her game as she has in the last two months.
Another contender should be the ever-fretting-over-her-swing Juli Inkster. I’ve never met a world-class player with a greater tendency to freak out on her way to the 1st tee. She’s had a tough 2008 but has made peace with the idea of winning ugly — it doesn’t have to be perfect, just get the ball in the hole.
My dark horse is 21-year-old Jane Park (right), a former U.S. Women’s Amateur champion and two-time U.S. Curtis Cupper. While still looking for her first pro win, she has quietly moved to 15th on the money list, has the ability to go really low (62 in the final round of the NW Arkansas Championship), is much longer than her slight build would suggest and has a rock-solid makeup.
Dottie Pepper welcomes letters at [email protected]