2006: LPGA - Weathering the rains of change
By Alistair Tait
Lytham St. Annes, England
They came by the thousands to see the future of women’s golf. Instead, the 67,000 fans at the Weetabix Women’s British Open saw one of the LPGA’s veteran mainstays finally get her just rewards from a championship that has helped define her 20-year career.
Michelle Wie may have entered the event as the main drawing card ahead of No. 1 Annika Sorenstam, but 43-year-old Sherri Steinhauer stole the show with a display of links golf Wie and Sorenstam only wish they could have matched.
Rounds of 73-70-66-72 gave Steinhauer a 7-under 281 total and the first-place check of $305,000.
It is the second major of her career following the 1992 du Maurier Classic, an event no longer played.
Cristie Kerr (71) and Sophie Gustafson (72) tied for second at 4 under, and Juli Inkster and Lorena Ochoa tied for fourth another shot back after 1-over 73s.
Steinhauer already had two British Opens to her name. She won back-to-back titles in 1998 and 1999, the first coming over the same Royal Lytham links.
The difference between those tournaments and this year’s came in two important words: major championship.
The British was only designated major status in 2001. Not that it stopped Steinhauer from living the major dream.
“When I tell people I’ve won two British Opens, they just assume it was a major and I don’t tell them any different,” Steinhauer joked after a third-round 66 gave her a three-shot lead over Inkster, Gustafson, Ochoa and 2004 winner Karen Stupples.
She need pretend no more.
“That’s the biggest thrill for me: I’ve won it when it was a major,” Steinhauer said. “I’m on cloud nine right now, living a dream. I’m absolutely stunned. I was extremely nervous at the start of the day. I wanted this one so badly.”
When Steinhauer earned her first British Open title, she opened with an 81 and flew in so far under the radar that the only time she made it into the press room was after she’d won. A closing 69 on that occasion helped her steal the title from Betsy King, Karrie Webb and Janice Moodie.
She did not steal this title.
Steinhauer did not drop a shot from the fifth hole in the second round until the 72nd hole, an astonishing 48-hole bogey-free stretch. She found only five bunkers all week, including just one fairway bunker, on the right side of No. 10 in Round 1. Considering Royal Lytham has 195 malevolent sand pits on its 6,480-yard layout, that achievement alone was worthy of a major title.
Steinhauer hit knockdown shots, played beautiful bump-and-runs, stayed out of the sand – basically everything she needed to do to win. In fact, watching her mastery of Royal Lytham begged just one question: Why had she only won six LPGA titles – and only one in the past seven years?
“This type of golf suits my game,” Steinhauer said. “This course requires low shots. You imagine your shots, and run the ball a lot into the pin. I love that kind of golf. At the U.S. Open you have to hit it high, and it’s not my game.”
Kerr got within one of Steinhauer when she birdied the par-5 15th, her sixth birdie of the day, but a bogey at 16 after she ran her approach shot through the green halted her charge. Kerr then double-bogeyed the 18th after driving into a fairway bunker.
“I had a little lapse of concentration on the 16th hole,” Kerr said.
“On 18, my glove slipped a little bit. I hit it solid but way right and it went into that damn trap. I played great all day, and I’m terribly disappointed.”
The Lytham bunkers also killed Gustafson’s title ambitions. The Swede was three shots off the lead when she found two bunkers on her way to a bogey on the par-5 15th.
The Lytham galleries expected a veteran to win after the first round, just not Steinhauer. Instead it was Inkster who looked as if she would add to her seven major championships after an opening 66.
She needed only this tournament to hold a full set of majors, and it looked odds-on to go her way after an even-par 72 in Round 2 gave her a three-shot lead through 36 holes. However, two double bogeys Saturday ruined her chance of becoming, at 46, the oldest woman to capture a major title.
Sorenstam looked like a shadow of the player who won last month’s U.S. Open. She got within four shots of the lead Saturday before finishing with three successive bogeys. Her play deteriorated even further Sunday when she scored an un-Annika-like 7-over 44 over the final nine holes for a closing 79 and a tie for 31st.
Wie never was a factor, although that didn’t stop her from attracting the largest galleries. Too many bunkers, further problems with the rules and too many shots hit sideways contributed to a 6-over 294 total that left her tied for 26th, 13 shots off the pace.
After her rules infringement in Round 2 – when she was penalized two strokes for hitting a piece of moss in her backswing in a bunker beside the 14th green – it was clear her 6-for-6 run of top 10s in LPGA events this year would come to an end.
“I think strangely enough that I learned more here this week than I did all summer,” Wie said. “I learned so much: how to play the game, really. I learned to try and be patient out here.”
Steinhauer learned that lesson a long time ago.