Ladies Day @ Woburn

Having just returned from an excellent couple of days watching the best women golfers in the world compete in The Open at Woburn, here are my main take-away’s from the event:

Anne Van Dam is a diamond

One of the main goals of my visit to Buckinghamshire was to check out the Dutch phenom Anne Van Dam, who has had plenty of column inches and social media posts dedicated to her talent.

Did her game live up to the hype?

Well Yes and No. It is true that her talent shines brightly – but the diamond still needs a little polish to contend regularly for Major titles.

Tall and willowy in stature, Van Dam with a Driver in hand is one of the most thrilling sights in women’s golf. With a suppleness and technical excellence that reminds you of a young Michelle Wie, her effortless power from the tee is a powerful weapon that gives her an advantage that few others in the field possess.

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Anne Van Dam – power and grace

There are a few areas of her game, however, that still need little improvements to really allow her to make that last step to world class.

With her long game, she is prone to a miss left and could perhaps benefit by adding a soft fade option to her stock draw.

This week, however, it was her putter that was stone cold, with numerous missed birdie opportunities keeping her from contending for the title. Although she looks comfortable over the ball, a slight kink in her rhythm a la Lee Westwood was noticeable and she looked short of confidence on admittedly very tricky greens on the Marquess layout.

These are quite easily resolved areas however, and this young lady, who plays wonderfully quickly with speed and poise is set for a big future.

The Woe of Ko

When this event was last held at Woburn in 2016, New Zealander Lydia Ko was the world number 1 and the player to beat.

How times change. Ko looked a shadow of her former self as she hacked round in eighty shots during the second round to miss the cut by miles and prop up the field.

The most worrying aspect of things for me was the way in which Ko went about her business. Fidgety and painfully slow in her pre-shot routine, Ko looked as if she had the weight of the world and about 57 technical thoughts on her mind as she stood over the ball. I would guess that the tale of Lydia Ko is an easy trap for Touring Professionals to get into as she has clearly been over-coached to the point where she no longer knows what is natural.

It was telling that, having missed the cut, she embarked on a marathon practice session on the range during Saturdays play, with a coach guiding her through every step of the swing. The easy smile and carefree spirit that was so engaging a short while ago was noticeable in its absence.

I hope she gets back on the right track.

Woburn is a great host – but for an Open?

The Marquess course at Woburn is not really my cup of tea. Very American in style with huge, undulating greens and huge drop-offs into deep bunkers, it lacks a certain Englishness for my preference in a similar vein to the redesigned West at Wentworth.

Nevertheless it was immaculately presented and conditioned and provided a good test for the best female golfers in the world. The event itself was brilliantly organised and the crowds were large and noticeably bigger than in 2016 at this venue. Yet somehow it just did not feel like an Open Championship.

This is where the organiser’s face a difficult choice. Take it to a traditional links venue, which being coastal naturally are more remote than Buckinghamshire and therefore do not attract such big crowds, or keep it central and easy to access?

With the next two years scheduled at the links titans of Royal Troon and Royal Porthcawl, it is clear that the powers that be are trying to strike the right balance here. These prestigious venues will gain media attention to the event and showcase the best of women’s golf in stunning seaside venues. If the media exposure of women’s golf and sport in general continues to grow as it is now, there seems no reason why in the future, the women’s Open cannot fall into line with the men’s Open venue rota. Portrush anyone?

These Girls are Good

There is no doubt that the general standard of golf on offer was fantastic.

The course tipped out at around 6800 yards but I would guess played to around 6500-6600 yards with the daily tee positions. It is a challenging heavily tree lined layout with brutally difficult undulating putting surfaces. There was nothing easy about this track – the Par 5’s were all long and the short holes challenging. For 12 under to be leading at the half-way mark and for 65 players to be +1 or better was good golf indeed.

It is only natural to compare the girls with the guys. Where do the main differences lie?

The obvious answer is in power. The women will be on average about 40 yards shorter than the men from the tee. The longest hitters and best ball strikers I saw this week were Anne Van Dam, Lexi Thompson, Ariya Jutanugarn and Angel Yin – but even these players would be well behind the longest on the men’s Tour. Given the physiological differences between genders, this is to be expected and should not prevent women competing against men given appropriate tee sites.

This relative lack of power shapes some other noticeable differences. The players this week struggled a little from the rough – but compared to the men they missed the fairway a lot less often with their consistency quite amazing. It was also noticeable that a huge majority of the women employed a draw shape from the tee – probably to maximise distance. In the men’s game, a controlled fade has become popular to aid consistency.

If I think about my own 4 handicap standard, the players this week by and large will hit the ball a similar distance to my average. They are just a lot better at all of the other aspects than I am. Despite this slightly sobering realisation I had an inspiring couple of days, learnt a lot and cannot wait to get back out onto the course.

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