- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 22, 2022

BETHESDA — Congressional Country Club has seen its fair share of professional golf and golf legends that have walked its gently rolling hills, with one notable caveat. They’ve all been men.

This week, it’s the women’s turn to make their own history on Congressional’s Blue Course. And those hills? They look quite different than D.C.-area golf fans remember.

The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship tees off here on Thursday, and the LPGA’s first visit to the Bethesda club also serves as a reintroduction of the course to the major circuit after a substantial renovation of every hole from tee to green.

“I think those that are fans of golf, those that are seen either in person as a spectator at previous championships here or seen it on TV, they’re going to see a completely different golf course, which is really fun and exciting.” PGA of America president Jim Richerson told reporters ahead of the tournament.

“You know Congressional. You know the name Congressional and some of the championships here. You don’t know the new golf course.”

It’s the sixth major on any professional level to be contested at Congressional, and the makeover by Andrew Green that reopened for members last year harkens back to the club’s original 1924 design. That means far fewer trees and incredible openness — nearly the entire course can be seen from the back of the clubhouse — which Richerson said should create a stadiumlike feel with cheers able to be heard from two or three holes away.

“Just walking on property, this place is awesome,” said U.S. Solheim Cup captain Stacy Lewis, who tees off at 8:39 a.m. Thursday.

“You’ve got a really good mix of holes. Short par-4s, short par-3s, long par-3s, long par-4s. You have par-5s that they could move some tees around and make reachable and make some really good holes out of them. I think we’re going to see a lot of variety.”

Canadian Brooke Henderson echoed that sentiment. A winner of this tournament six years ago as an 18-year-old, she and her fellow competitors have been wowed by the setup and are excited to make their mark on the track for the first time.

“It’s so grand, and everything is immaculate, and this feels like a major championship golf course,” Henderson said. “Having the men played here and having so many great champions be crowned here, it’s really cool for us, the women, to be out here this week.”

World No. 3 Minjee Lee said that taking her time will be a key on the blue course’s sloped fairways and undulated greens this week. Already a major winner at the U.S. Women’s Open earlier this month, she’s been scouting the course to see how the turf plays and for areas that are more forgivable for mishits.

“My caddie actually told me some holes even if you hit a good shot, you might not be rewarded. Patience is the key around here,” Lee said.

“We haven’t really had the opportunity. But obviously, now that we do, I think maybe it feels a bit more special to be here, and maybe we can create our own history from now,” Lee said.

Defending champion Nelly Korda, who is the top American in the field, will look to continue not only her meteoric rise, which began last year with this tournament, but her recent strong play after a scary setback earlier this year. Korda was forced to miss two months after being diagnosed with a blood clot in her left arm in March.

“I made sure that I was 100% before coming back and even just hitting golf balls, obviously,” Korda said. “My health came first.”

In her return to competition, the current world No. 2 finished tied for 8th at the U.S. Women’s Open and led after three rounds at last week’s Meijer LPGA Classic but lost to Jennifer Kupcho in a three-way playoff. She’ll tee off with Henderson and three-time KMPG Women’s PGA champion Inbee Park on Thursday at 7:33 a.m. 

“I gave myself a chance last week,” Korda said. “If you told me that when I was laying in the ER, I would have definitely been very happy with that.”

The field of 156 will be competing for a substantial prize of $1.35 million. That’s part of a total prize purse of $9 million — double last year’s total for this event as announced at the beginning of the week. Amid the 50th anniversary of the signing of Title IX into law, the increase in purses shows both the growth and investment in the women’s game in recent years.

“A couple of girls already said to me how amazing it is, and I did know it was coming. I didn’t know it was going to be quite this big,” Lewis said.

“We have to keep building on this and making sure we’re thanking the right people and doing the right things to continue to raise the bar.”

• George Gerbo can be reached at ggerbo@washingtontimes.com.

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