• Alistair Tait

The baffling blue backstop


You have to feel for Nelly Korda. She might be celebrating her first major victory if not for the baffling blue backstop behind the 18th green at the ANA Inspiration.

The artificial wall played a part in deciding the second women’s major of 2020, and took the gloss of what was another thrilling finish in a major championship. No disrespect to Mirim Lee, who beat Korda and Brooke Henderson in sudden death playoff. She’s a worthy champion. Any player who chips in three times in the final round of a major is worthy.

However, that “what if” question slightly overshadowed the denouement to what used to be called the Dinah Shore.

Quite how tournament organisers couldn’t see how the silly blue wall would come into play is beyond me. Not just me, but practically everyone else. The baffling blue backstop lit a blue touch paper on Twitter. When a respected voice such as Judy Rankin weighs into the discussion, then you know something’s wrong. She tweeted:

“Today’s players are so talented that they would find a way to deal with an island green. Do not need an assist!”

Golf.com’s Alan Shipnuck covered the ANA, and provided an apt description of the wall.

"The Covid-induced move of Dinah Shore’s old tournament from April to September brought higher temperatures and a springier strain of Bermuda on the firm greens, meaning that any player who went for it on the watery, do-or-die par-5 18th had a good chance of going long.
"But instead of the players’ balls trickling into the water behind the island green, the wall served as a discordant backstop, taking all the risk out of what could have been a thrilling risk-reward hole. (It’s true that in the past there has been a grandstand set about four paces further back than the wall, but with fans barred from the grounds this year there was no reason to have any clutter behind the green.)"

Shipnuck quotes Lee’s caddie Matt Glczis on their strategy on the 18th.

“Our play was to hit it into the middle of the green, let it run into the blue thing and get a free drop. Without that being there we probably have to lay up because none of your long clubs are going to hold the green – it’s too firm.”

Carlota Ciganda agree. She said:

“Without that wall, no one would go for the green. No one.”

Former Golfweek colleague Steve DiMeglio, who’s covered he ANA many times over the years, tweeted:

“Some players took advantage, others didn’t. It’s a joke it was an option. Bang it off wall, we be good. At a major? At any tournament? That’s pathetic.”

Both Lee and Henderson took advantage of the wall on the final day. Again, no disrespect to them. They played the course as they found it.

It’s true grandstands and other paraphernalia needed for major championships have to be catered for. However, this year was obviously different because of the absence of fans. Organisers had the luxury of letting players take on the course as it should be played. Geoff Shackleford gets it spot on when he says:

“Simply: an island green did not play like an island green because a screen was erected. It was an inevitable problem that overshadowed a compelling final round with great skill on display.”

#JustSaying: "I have often been surprised and pained, not so much at the Englishman's madness for the game, as at the manner of it. To him we owe, amongst other things, the perplexing and uncalled for mutilation of the ancient rules to suit the exigencies of local greens." Garden G. Smith, 1896

Photograph courtesy of the Ladies European Tour

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