SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA | The tears were unexpected but unashamed, big and flowing as if the wealth of history had washed over her like the morning marine layer. As Shannon Rouillard walked down the steps from the hilltop driving range to the Spanish-styled clubhouse at the Olympic Club, history’s gentle knock brought a flood of emotions. Not just the history of the place, although she knows all about the past championships held at the Lake Course and the fact that only four players have ever broken par for four rounds here. She knows about Hogan and Fleck, Casper and Palmer, and the Simpsons, Scott and Webb. But as the person in charge of this U.S. Women’s Open, and the person who has set up every women’s USGA event for the last five years, Rouillard was also overwhelmed by her personal history in this place.
“I had just graduated from the University of Oregon in the spring of 1995 and I was going to turn pro,” said Rouillard, who had joined the golf team as a walk-on and went on to be all-conference. “Olympic Club had graciously given me privileges on Christmas break when I was here visiting my parents, who moved to this area the summer before my senior year so I didn’t have a place to practice.
“So, I walked into Olympic Club and the late, great Jim Lucius said, ‘Yeah, come into the golf shop a couple of hours a day and you can practice and play all you want.’ That’s what I did. Then, after I graduated, I came back and said, ‘I’m going to turn professional. Can I have the same arrangement?’ And he said, ‘Sure.’ So, after I graduated, I came back to Olympic Club and that’s where I met my husband, Tim Rouillard, who was an assistant professional in the shop. He had been at Half Moon Bay (Golf Links) for five years and had always wanted to be a professional at Olympic Club. So, we met right here…”
She paused and pointed to the door she was about to enter, one she had entered many times before and one that had led to her life today. “… in this golf shop,” she said more to herself than anyone else.
“I’ve been fortunate to play in a number of USGA championships, two Women’s Mid-Ams, one Women’s Open, three Women’s Amateurs, one Women’s Amateur Public Links. So, I’ve always had an affinity for the USGA.” – Shannon Rouillard
The Rouillards practiced and played together, not exactly dating but not not dating, either. They began as pals, as many successful couples do. “We hung out and went to some 49ers games,” Shannon said. “We were friendly.”
Then she paused again. “I’ve been very fortunate.”
There were times when she might not have looked at it that way. Her career in golf wasn’t always what she wanted, but it was always what she needed and what it should have been. She fumbled around on various mini-tours and did get through a USGA qualifier at nearby Lake Merced Golf Club to qualify for the 1999 U.S. Women’s Open at Old Waverly in Mississippi. That U.S. Open was won by Juli Inkster, who grew up and still lives 70 miles south of Olympic Club.
Once it became clear that Rouillard wouldn’t make a living as a touring professional, she went back to her alma mater, first as an assistant and then as head coach for the Ducks. She and Tim stayed in Eugene for 10 years and Shannon gave birth to a child.
“Tim has moved wherever my career has taken me,” Rouillard said. In 2010, that was a move across the country for an opportunity to work with the USGA.
“I remember when I qualified for the U.S. (Women’s) Amateur Public Links in 1995, my dad traveled with me to Falls Neck, New Jersey, and we went to the USGA Museum,” she said. “I just remember taking that drive and how cool it all was. This was the history of the game in our country right in front of me.
“I’ve been fortunate to play in a number of USGA championships, two Women’s Mid-Ams, one Women’s Open, three Women’s Amateurs, one Women’s Amateur Public Links. So, I’ve always had an affinity for the USGA. Then I had the opportunity to work for the USGA, starting in the rules department. To get inside the building and run championships was just amazing.”
She hasn’t been the front face of the U.S. Women’s Open, even though the setup has been hers since Trump National Bedminster in 2017. The reason most fans don’t know her is that Rouillard has never gotten it wrong. Knowing who sets up a golf course is like knowing your anesthesiologist. You only remember the name if things don’t go well. That hasn’t been the case at the U.S. Women’s Open. Players might have questioned some of the venues – CordeValle won’t make many “classic venues” lists and there was only so much you could do at Champions Golf Club in Houston in December – but Rouillard has avoided the big miss.
This week is her biggest test. The rough on the Lake Course looks like it hasn’t been mowed since the Masters. And some of the reverse-cambered fairways have an effective hitting area the width of a two-lane highway. There is also no first cut. Balls go from fairway to gnarly. In some cases, players who missed a fairway by a foot will be lucky to fly an 8-iron 30 or 40 yards.
“It’s really thick,” Angela Stanford said of the rough. “I mean, really thick. There are going to be some days out here where you just have to accept that the par is 76 and move on.”
So Yeon Ryu, who won the U.S. Women’s Open in 2011 at the Broadmoor, said: “This is a really difficult test. Quite frankly, I think if you shoot 73 every day, you’ll finish at least in the top three.”
Rouillard nods at those comments, not smiling but not overly concerned either. “We chart the course and determine the setup based on so many factors,” she said. “What is the most up-to-date weather forecast? What are the conditions? What are our green speeds? Our firmness? Our moisture? We’ve been very fortunate in that we’ve gotten it where we want it.”
Then she looked into the distance and the wells formed in her hazel green eyes.
“My dad introduced me to the game when I was 15,” she said. “I could never have imagined that golf would take me to this place, to running the Women’s Open. Although I was never able to make a career out of playing professional golf, that was OK. I love to coach. And I love to mentor. I want that to be my legacy, to mentor the next generation of women golf administrators.”
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