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If the USGA hosts a championship that doesn’t have a ‘course set-up’ storm, did it even happen?

That, it seems, will be a question for another week. This week – or at least, this week so far – the focus is on the way the par-3 12th at Lancaster Country Club has been prepared for the US Women’s Open.

Playing 161 yards on Thursday, the severity of the hole was brought into sharp focus when world No.1 Nelly Korda made a septuple-bogey ten on her way to a ten-over-par 80.

Starting on the tenth, the 12th was Korda’s third hole of the day, all but ending her hopes of winning a second consecutive major and a seventh title in her last eight starts before the week had properly begun.

Legitimate questions can be asked about both Korda’s strategy and execution, and she was careful after her round not to question the set-up so much as the fact she was made to wait on the tee because of a logjam (itself a consequence of the challenging set-up).

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Indeed, according to those on the ground, Korda’s group finished up on 11 at 8.46am local time. They walked off the 12th at 9.25am.

Whilst Korda’s ten was the worst score on the hole on Thursday, it was far from an outlier. Colombian pro Mariajo Uribe made a nine. There were a handful of sevens. Defending champion Allisen Corpuz racked up a six.

By day’s end, there had been 45 doubles or worse, comfortably the most of any hole on the course. The next closest was the fourth, which registered 16. Just over 31% – almost a third – of the total doubles or worse recorded in round one happened on the 12th.

There were 24 bogeys for good measure, offset by 77 pars and only ten birdies (one of which was recorded by the soon-to-retire Lexi Thompson).

A par-3 on the card, it played as a par-3.8 on Thursday – almost a whole stroke over-par. No other hole played more than half a shot over its par.

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More penalties were incurred on the 12th in round one than on the other 17 holes combined.

For context, the last time the US Women’s Open was played at Lancaster, back in 2015, there were 31 double-bogeys made across the entire week. This week, after just one round, there have been 32.

What makes it so tough? That’s easy.

For one thing, it comes off the back of four consecutive holes that have an uphill approach. The 12th plays steeply downhill by a good 50 feet or so to what is the shallowest green on the course that slopes aggressively from back-to-front – a hallmark of the course designer William Flynn.

The front of the green is guarded by a water hazard with four bunkers around the back of the hole.

As Korda put it earlier in the week, “if you’re long, you’re kind of screwed; if you’re short, you’re kind of screwed, too.”

If you end up in the water, as many players did, you must take a drop from a fairway that is cut towards the green, making it much more difficult to hit the perfect pitch. Again, just ask Nelly.

And all of that is before you even begin to consider naturally occurring factors such as gusting wind, and unnaturally occurring factors such as the USGA and its obsession with fast greens.

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One observer I spoke to during round one told me that the issues with 12 were both entirely man-made and entirely avoidable.

“That hole can’t have a green that fast,” they told me. “The USGA are bumbling fools.”

“It is so sloped and you have to be so careful,” added former AIG Women’s Open champion Sophia Popov, who described the pin position on 12 as ‘very finicky’. “You can barely touch your downhill putts.”

Andrea Lee said: “Anywhere on that green is a good shot in my opinion.” [In case you’re wondering, only 52% of the field hit and held the putting surface on day one.]

Others, however, view it differently.

Veteran caddie Craig Connelly tweeted that Korda “made a right pig’s ear” of the hole, adding: “Nowt to do with set up.”

Solheim Cup star Mel Reid, part of the NBC Sports TV team this week, added that she thinks the 12th is a “fabulous golf hole… exactly what US Women’s Open golf should be.”

“She’s a beauty, but she played like an absolute beast today,” added Reid.

Regardless of whether it’s sublime or ridiculous, the 12th has made an almighty impression on the US Women’s Open thus far.

Whether or not it proves decisive to the outcome on Sunday remains to be seen, as does what championship officials do – if anything – to rein it in between now and then.

A penny for William Flynn’s thoughts would, one suspects, be a shrewd investment.


author headshot

Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

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