As Sei Young Kim prepared to play her second shot on the par-5 18th on Friday, caddie Paul Fusco told Golf Channel reporter Jerry Foltz that she was hitting a cut 5-wood and that “it’s too much club.” Long is preferred on the closing hole of the Dinah Shore Tournament Course, even though it’s an island green. Not for members of course. They’d be in the water.
But at the 49th ANA Inspiration, there’s a giant blue wall directly behind the green, serving as a backstop for those who want to attack on their second shots. Kim’s ball nailed the wall and dropped down safely on the grass. She got up and down for birdie and marched on to a 70.
Why is there a wall on the 18th?
LEADERBOARD: ANA Inspiration
For years now, there has been a grandstand behind the 18th green. But with no VIPS to put in the seats this year, many assumed the closing hole would go back to its natural state – the ultimate risk/reward challenge. After all, that’s the way LPGA hopefuls see it in the first stage of Qualifying School every summer.
Brittany Lincicome hit the hybrid of her life into the green in 2009 to win this tournament for the first time and tweeted two words about the presence of the blue wall: Thank God.
Leader Nelly Korda said good friend Megan Khang threw a ball under the wall during a practice round and watched it roll through the mesh and into the water.
“Honestly, I wish they didn’t have that wall there because I think it would play really cool as like an island green,” said Korda, “but as well, it’s like really close to the green this year. Like usually the palm trees, if you’re like left side, you have to play around them or they come in play, but this year it’s very close to the green.”
The LPGA typically uses the forward tee on the 18th hole twice a week – Friday and Sunday – from 510 yards to 487.
Cristie Kerr said she’s “pretty indifferent” about the wall. Madelene Sagstrom tried to picture how the hole would play without grandstands ahead of the tournament. That turned out to be unnecessary, of course, and she’s happy about it.
“It surprised me a little bit,” said Sagstrom, “but it looks good for the sponsors and stuff to have their logos on there, so I’m happy it’s there for both the sponsors and my own going-into sake.”
The LPGA didn’t want to comment on the wall, except to say that it’s no different than the hospitality structure. Except that it is different in that there aren’t any seats. It’s also worth noting that the lettering on the wall isn’t that big either. The scoreboard, which typically sits off the island, is now adjacent to the wall behind the green.
There’s a second a blue wall down the left-hand side of the green along Dinah’s Walk of Champions, where there’s typically a grandstand packed with fans.
“If you go way, way back,” said Judy Rankin, “(the 18th) was not reachable. There was only a couple of people who ever tried to go for it in two.”
There was no grandstand back then either. With no fans and a forward tee, new drama on the 18th in 2020 was ripe for the taking. There has been a playoff at the ANA on the 18th hole in three of the past five years.
“I believe these players are talented enough and have enough course management skill to have dealt with the hole without that wall,” said Rankin. “How can you play a dangerous shot to a green that is surrounded by water and manufacture making only 50 percent of that danger in play?
“Keep the green reasonably playable and let them handle it.”