As the best players in women’s golf play Pebble Beach for the first time this week at the US Women’s Open, the majority of the field is experiencing a rarity on the seaside setup – the par 5s are playing over par.

“I think the course setup is great,” said Bailey Tardy, the 36-hole leader.

However, she had a caveat: “I think it would be more fun to hit some par 5s in two [shots].”

According to the LPGA’s statistics, only two out of 165 players are averaging over par on the par 5s this season. The four par 5s at Pebble this week are averaging 5.06. The two on the back nine, holes 14 and 18, are playing over par at a 5.38 and 5.22 average, respectively.

Tardy, who carded back-to-back eagles on the par-5 sixth during the first two rounds, is one of the longest hitters this week and she is fourth on tour in average driving distance this year, hitting it 278 yards (254 metres) off the tee. With the marine layer hanging over Pebble and playing at sea level, Tardy is averaging 30 yards shorter this week.

Lydia Ko plays her second shot on the 18th hole during the second round of the 78th US Women’s Open. [Photo: Harry How]
She highlighted the 18th as an example of how the layout at Pebble leads to unique decisions. Tardy has laid up with her tee shot all three days, hitting it 220, 179, and 186 yards by using a club less than driver. She hit her second shot farther than her first on Friday and Saturday, knocking it 221 and 202 yards up the fairway.

“I think being able hit… a really risky driver shot on 18 and then get rewarded, and hit another really risky shot into the green in two, I think that would be super fun for us and for fans to see,” Tardy said.

Lydia Ko also laid back on the 18th in the third round. In a sequence that the average golfer can relate to, Ko hit a 195-yard 3-wood off the tee, then a 177-yard 5-wood to have 154 yards into the green. She used a 6-iron from there to put it 22 feet past the hole before making the putt for birdie.

“It’s a beast of a hole,” Ko said.

The uphill, par-5 14th is the third-most difficult hole this week. Even with the USGA moving the tee markers up 49 yards in the third round, players still had a long way to get to the green after their tee shots straight into the wind.

Andrea Lee parred the hole with a 215-yard drive, leaving herself 291 into the green. Mina Harigae, a Monterey resident, hit her tee shot 211 yards into the fairway, leaving 281 yards for her second. Harigae carded one of nine birdies on the hole on Saturday.

“It’s still playing really long, straight into the wind,” Lee said. “Just got to commit to your number.”

The USGA gave the field an easier chance to score on the par-5 second on Saturday, moving the tee box up from 509 yards the first two days to 465 yards. Ko used a 5-iron from 195 to go for it in two, missing the green pin-high left in the greenside bunker. The field took advantage of the shorter hole, averaging 4.52 on Saturday. It was the easiest hole of the third round.

“Two was always a reachable par 5 [on Friday], but they made it even more attackable [Saturday],” Ko said.

That shorter tee on the second didn’t come back for the final round. Shannon Rouillard, the USGA’s senior director of championships for the women, explained that they moved the second back for the final round. She kept the 13th and 14th tees up.

Changing the tees to accommodate the north-west wind are the only adjustments to Pebble Beach the USGA has made this week, Rouillard said. She only made minor tweaks after site visits back in April and May, such as extending fairways to allow balls to roll into bunkers, like the sand on the right side of the fairway on the 16th.

“We still have presented that tough test that we’re looking to achieve, but we’ve managed that with the weather forecast,” Rouillard said.