The U.S. Women's Open will return to Pine Needles - Annika's Thoughts
Updated: Dec 19, 2019
It was just announced on Tuesday that the U.S. Women’s Open will return to Pine Needles Lodge and Country Club in North Carolina in 2022. It will be the fourth time the club will host the championship. Obviously, I have a soft spot in my heart for the place, not only because it was site of my second U.S. Open win in 1996, but also due to my friendship and admiration for the renowned LPGA instructor Peggy Kirk Bell. Unfortunately, Peggy will not witness this coming championship since she passed last year, but her spirit certainly lives on.
I met Peggy in 1992. I was an amateur and my tournament schedule took me to Pinehurst for the North & South tournament. This was my first summer playing events in the U.S. and I was travelling by myself. I had nowhere to stay, so Peggy invited me and some of her friends to stay at her lodge. I remember having a great time, the hospitality was one of a kind and Peggy and I hit it off right away. She couldn’t pronounce my name so I became “Heineken.” I’m not sure why, because at that time I didn’t drink (and even today I don’t drink beer), but it must have been my European accent…
Anyway, she would take me to the course every day in the company limousine. I really felt like family and royalty! She would watch me hit balls and then in the evenings she would tell stories about her playing career and her experiences. She was really a trailblazer – she had a pilot license and flew herself to tournaments, much like her contemporary Arnold Palmer.
After that week, we kept in touch and I was so excited to return as a professional for the U.S. Women’s open a few years later. This time I brought my family, but that didn’t stop Peggy from hanging with me. She was a great host and the golf club was a perfect venue for this prestigious championship.
I came into the tournament as the defending champion, and at that time I hadn’t had an opportunity to defend a professional title, so the experience was quite new. Despite that, I remember feeling very comfortable and relaxed. I was really in the zone and my game was on. I played well that week and I when I finished my 72nd hole and walked to the scoring tent, I heard someone yell, “Go Heineken!” That was, of course, Peggy. I will never forget that moment; it warms my heart to think of her.
The Women’s Open has since returned to Pine Needles, crowning worthy champions in Karrie Webb and Cristie Kerr.
It’s nice to see the USGA and Pine Needles once again partner. While it won’t be quite the same without Peggy and I won’t be competing this time, it will still be a great test of golf as the players will be faced with those famous Donald Ross greens. I have no doubt that Peggy will be smiling from above and maybe I will take a sip of Heineken in her honor!