Ariya Jutanugarn is a big strong woman who hits with as much power as anyone who has ever played women’s golf. Starting out off the 10th tee early in the morning when the hole was playing its longest she crunched a three wood from the tee and ripped a two iron right into the middle of the par five green. It was impressive alone for the fact she and Laura Davies are the only players in the field carrying 2 irons and world number one, Lydia Ko doesn’t bother with the 3s, 4s or 5s either.
The Thai made a nice save for a par at the next after driving into the fairway bunker on top of the hill and then after a lousy iron into the 12th she holed a long and quite difficult chip for a birdie. Two more birdies, both from short range, immediately followed and then at the downhill 15th she drove too far, chipped out and scrapped out a four from eighty meters short of the green.
From there she played out a fine round in 69 and marked herself as a player with a winning chance.
Coming back in the golf cart from the 9th green Katherine Kirk asked her is she liked ‘this style of golf’.
‘No’ was the pretty unambiguous answer.
She wouldn’t be the first visitor to find Royal Melbourne unsuited to their tastes. Lee Trevino famously said after his nine over par, third place finish in the brutally difficult 1974 Chrysler Classic, ‘take a picture of me going out the gate because you won’t ever see me coming back in.’
The course is a lot more playable now than it was in the 70s era of championship play when the 1977 US Open champion Hubert Green once said ‘these greens would be great .. if they had any grass on them!’
Still it is far from easy and by the middle of the afternoon the course was hard and fast. Some might says it was ‘firm and not as fast as it used to be’ but it was easily hard and fast enough.
Ko was out with So Yeon Ryu and Charley Hull and after driving only sixty meters from the front of the 13th green she managed to hole from 5 feet for a bogey. She drove perfectly over the hill at the 14th to where she could reach with a long wood and her predictably accurate raking second shot found the green and the forty-footer, the cup.
The next hole was even more instructive. The short par four turning perfectly with the contours down and around the hill (leaving one to wonder if Jutanugarn stopped as she played the hole for even a second to marvel at the genius of Alister MacKenzie and Alex Russell) and Ko was back far enough to have to play into a back right pin with one of those clubs which is neither iron nor wood. She proved her genius with the hybrids, hitting a perfectly flighted fade which bounced right at the front of the green, fed through the hollow in the middle of the green and ran right to the hole.
Jessica Korda, in contrast had pitched into the green seven hours earlier with a wedge. It is unimaginable in the men’s game two of the best players in the world would play such contrasting versions of the same game.
It is a part of the genius of the course but I guess it takes a mind which sees past what suits your own game or your tastes to understand it.
Not everyone sees it like Royal Melbourne lover Ben Crenshaw but I ask you, who would you rather have design a golf course? Crenshaw or Jutanugarn?