All eyes on Houston: Why a U.S. Women’s Open in December is a very good thing

In this highly unusual golf season, the U.S. Women’s Open has been gifted the most precious of commodities: exclusivity. On Thursday, when the national championship begins at Champions Golf Club, in Houston, the best female golfers in the world will have the stage all to themselves.

The PGA Tour is off. So are the seniors, and the Korn Ferry guys, too. The European Tour is worlds away in Dubai. The USGA is pulling out all the stops to provide quality content: Angela Stanford, the pride of Fort Worth, Tex., who won last week in Dallas, will hit the tournament’s opening tee shot on Thursday morning. A tantalizing threesome of bombers in Anne Van Dam, Maria Fassi and Bianca Pagdanganan have been grouped together for the opening rounds.  So, too, have America stars Nelly Korda and Lexi Thompson, as well as a powerhouse trio of former U.S. Women’s Open champions and world number ones in Inbee Park, Ariya Jutanugarn, and So Yeon Ryu.

To help focus attention on the 75th playing of the women’s game most prestigious event, a new hashtag has sprung up on social media: #WomenWorthWatching. There will certainly be plenty of opportunity to do so across 34 hours of coverage, including Golf Channel pre- and post-game shows, daily streams on Peacock and live coverage on NBC and Golf Channel.

Nelly Korda at U.S. Women's Open
2020 U.S. Women’s Open tee times: First round groupings for Thursday
By: Kevin Cunningham

It has taken a monumental effort to make this championship happen in the midst of a pandemic, which LPGA commissioner Mike Whan acknowledged in a Tuesday tweet: “THANK YOU, USGA – it would have been easy to cancel this year but your courage, hard work, and commitment to this incredible U.S. Women’s Open has created a world-class opportunity for the world’s best. Respect!”

With a full 156-player field and some of the shortest days of the year, the USGA is utilizing both of Champions’ courses, Cypress Creek and Jackrabbit, for the opening two rounds. After the cut falls the final two rounds will be contested on Cypress Creek, which features sprawling greens and tightly-mown runoffs, putting a premium on accurate approaches. Players who miss their targets will need to rely on steady lag putting and creative and nerveless short games.

lexi thompson
Lexi Thompson prepping at Champions Golf Club. Chris Keane/USGA

Champions is a much mythologized club, with its patriarch Jackie Burke, Jr. (the. 1956 Masters champ) still a vibrant presence at age 97. The excellent venue fits nicely into an LPGA schedule that this year has already visited Royal Adelaide, Inverness, the Renaissance Club, Royal Troon and Aronomink, among other celebrated courses.

All of this is pointing toward a blockbuster week.

Nelly Korda
U.S. Women’s Open picks to win: Here’s who our staff is betting on
By: GOLF Editors

On Tuesday, Danielle, Kang, one of the pre-tournament favorites, spoke to the excellent vibes surrounding this Open. “I think the women’s game is getting a lot of good recognition,” said Kang, the world No. 4 who has won twice this season. “Not just the U.S. Open, but being able to play prestigious golf courses, having the history and people watching it and tuning in. And especially during this pandemic. I know that a lot of people have time at home to watch now, and I know that the golf game itself has risen. I’m very thankful that we are in the trending direction every year since I’ve been out here since 2012, but I only see positives, and can’t wait to see what’s in store for us in the future.”

That future starts now, at a championship worth watching.

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Alan Shipnuck

GOLF senior writer Alan Shipnuck writes longform features and a monthly column for GOLF Magazine and has his own vertical on entitled “The Knockdown,” which is home to podcasts, video vignettes, event coverage and his popular weekly mailbag AskAlan. He is the author of five books on golf, including na­tional best-sellers Bud, Sweat & Tees and The Swinger (with Michael Bamberger). Shipnuck is very active on Twitter, with a following of 50,000.