Brooke Henderson, who has won 20 times since turning professional in 2014, rolled in a putt on the final hole of last year’s Amundi Evian Championship to win the women’s major by one shot over the rookie Sophia Schubert.
It was Henderson’s seventh time playing the championship, which starts on Thursday and is the only major played in continental Europe. It is also the only women’s major played on the same course every year, the Evian Resort Golf Club in France, which has hosted the tournament for nearly 30 years.
That presents an opportunity and a challenge for players trying to prepare to play on a course that was significantly redesigned a decade ago. It would seem to make it easier to get ready year after year. But the course itself is not universally liked. It’s been called quirky and unfair, and one player, Stacy Lewis, who is a major champion, skipped it for two years.
It also stands in contrast to courses for the other majors, which have moved to be hosted at the same venues where the men have won.
The United States Women’s Open was held at Pebble Beach Golf Links for the first time this year. And it’s set to be played at Oakmont, Pinehurst, Merion, and the Los Angeles Country Club, which hosted this year’s men’s United States Open.
It’s the same with the KPMG Women’s P.G.A. Championship, which was played this year at Baltusrol, and the A.I.G. Women’s Open that was played last year at Muirfield, one of the most historic golf courses in Scotland.
Yet few players are going to skip a major. So, does their preparation for the Evian differ from preparing for the other majors? And with a schedule that calls on players to travel farther and more widely in the season than the men do on the PGA Tour, is their preparation for the Evian different from their training for majors on courses they have seen before? (Add to that the fact that many players were in the United States last week, playing the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational in Michigan.)
Henderson, who is two-time major champion, was circumspect in her response about preparing.
“My team and I focus on peaking at the majors and work particularly hard to prepare for those weeks both mentally and physically,” she said. “The venue at the Amundi Evian Championship, like all major courses, is unique and really tests all aspects of your game in different ways. Given that it is a course we come back to each year, we adjust our strategy slightly based on prior experience and course conditions.”
Other players, particularly those who aren’t major champions, think about these weeks differently.
“We always circle the majors to try to peak during those certain tournaments,” said Ally Ewing, a three-time winner on the L.P.G.A. Tour. “I’m a process person. I want to be ready in the spring to play solid golf at the Evian. There are a lot of things that go into competing in a golf tournament there. I circle those dates.”
Ewing, who tied for 30th at the Evian her rookie season in 2016, said her focus this week had always been on controlling what she could put into preparing.
“It goes back to the hours I put in at age 14 to make sure the ball position was always the same place and that my putting stroke was repetitive,” she said. “It’s about a solid base. My prep should be focused on my tempo and knowing my way around the course. I need to dial in the speed on the greens and learn where to place on our approach shots.”
In that sense, the memory of returning to the Evian each year helps with some of the variables.
“All three of my wins have been brand-new golf courses for me,” she said. “Getting to a golf course where I have no past recollection of — I feel like rookies get to an event and they have this cram mind-set.”
“When I get to the Evian and there are a ton of side-hill lies, I’m working on creating comfort where I am. Every golf course is going to play differently, but I’m the same.”
For Ewing, it comes down to strategy, whether she’s played a major course a half dozen times, like at the Evian, or if it’s her first time at a venue.
“Sometimes, it’s simply looking and asking, do the greens have a lot of pitch back to front,” she said. “Do we want to be below the hole to score? Or on a course with a lot of runoff areas, we need to pay attention to the spots where we can miss. Let’s leave ourselves a chance to make birdie or, worst case, a par.”
She added: “As a professional, we miss shots. I miss some shots left and some shots right.”
Lizette Salas, who is in her 13th season on tour, hasn’t always liked playing at the Evian.
“I have yet to figure that course out,” she said. “It’s definitely a challenging golf course, as far as the layout. You’re hardly ever going to get a flat lie at the Evian Championship. Also, the weather is a very big factor to determine how low we can go for that week. I feel there’s only so much you can do to that golf course, other than tear it completely down.”
She admits that some courses just don’t suit a player’s eye, or they’re places that they’ve not always played well at. “But as the purses continue to rise, that just encourages us not to suck it up, but to take it as a new challenge and try to make it work.”
In eight appearances at the Evian, her best finish was her first time, tied for 11th in 2013.
For Salas, playing well in a major is about the prep work.
“I definitely prepare differently today,” she said. “In my earlier years, my goal was to play the course as many times as possible. But I realized it’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Today I like to play the course no more than twice ahead of time and focus on the main trends of the course.
“It’s a course we’ve seen over and over again, but we don’t have the luxury of getting there early because of our schedules. If you like a course more than others, it dictates your practice schedule.”
At this month’s U.S. Women’s Open, she went to Pebble Beach a month early. “I got to play an afternoon and a morning round to see the wind tendencies,” she said.
As the defending champion at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, Salas played that tournament in Michigan and then flew to France to get ready for the Evian.
But one thing that doesn’t change is her emphasis on what she calls “boring golf.” “You’re not trying to hit a ton of balls” to prepare, she said. “You’re just trying to understand the golf course. Is there any insight on how to play this course the best way?”
For others, though, they try to block out the magnitude of the event and play the week like any other tournament.
“You just have to go into it thinking it’s just another event,” said Jessica Korda, who has missed the cut three times at the Evian, “because that’s exactly what it is at the end of the day.”