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Intimidating tree-lined fairways of Sahalee await Nelly Korda and rest of field in the Women's PGA

Sport

Intimidating tree-lined fairways of Sahalee await Nelly Korda and rest of field in the Women's PGA
Sport

Sport

Intimidating tree-lined fairways of Sahalee await Nelly Korda and rest of field in the Women's PGA

2024-06-20 21:28 Last Updated At:21:31

SAMMAMISH, Wash. (AP) — Inside her yardage book, Nelly Korda keeps the markings simple. The No. 1 player in the world denotes the spots she needs to avoid hitting by writing X’s.

At Sahalee Country Club, with Douglas fir, red cedar and hemlock trees framing every fairway and making each look like a hallway, there are likely to be a substantial amount of those X marks outside the short grass.

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Brooke M. Henderson, of Canada, putts on the green on the 18th hole during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

SAMMAMISH, Wash. (AP) — Inside her yardage book, Nelly Korda keeps the markings simple. The No. 1 player in the world denotes the spots she needs to avoid hitting by writing X’s.

Isabella Fierro, of Mexico, hits off the ninth tee during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Isabella Fierro, of Mexico, hits off the ninth tee during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Albane Valenzuela, of Switzerland, and Sarah Schmelzel, left, react to a photo on the eighth hole during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Albane Valenzuela, of Switzerland, and Sarah Schmelzel, left, react to a photo on the eighth hole during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Albane Valenzuela, of Switzerland, hits off the ninth tee during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Albane Valenzuela, of Switzerland, hits off the ninth tee during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Roberta Liti, of Italy, holds out her ball on the seventh green during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Roberta Liti, of Italy, holds out her ball on the seventh green during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Stephanie Meadow, of Northern Ireland, hits off the fifth tee during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Stephanie Meadow, of Northern Ireland, hits off the fifth tee during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Alexandra Forsterling, of Germany, smiles on the fourth green during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Alexandra Forsterling, of Germany, smiles on the fourth green during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Charley Hull, of England, talks with her caddie on the fourth green during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Charley Hull, of England, talks with her caddie on the fourth green during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Mone Inami, of Japan, hits out of the bunker on the fourth hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Mone Inami, of Japan, hits out of the bunker on the fourth hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Hinako Shibuno, of Japan, right, measures the fifth hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Hinako Shibuno, of Japan, right, measures the fifth hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Chisato Iwai, of Japan, smiles while working on the green of the 16th hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Chisato Iwai, of Japan, smiles while working on the green of the 16th hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Cydney Clanton hits a shot on the fairway of the 14th hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Cydney Clanton hits a shot on the fairway of the 14th hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Jin Hee Im, of South Korea, walks the fairway of the 16th hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Jin Hee Im, of South Korea, walks the fairway of the 16th hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Yuka Saso, of Japan, walks with her caddie to the green of the 17th hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Yuka Saso, of Japan, walks with her caddie to the green of the 17th hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Nelly Korda hits out of a bunker on the 18th hole during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Nelly Korda hits out of a bunker on the 18th hole during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Nelly Korda, left, walks past Sophia Popov, of Germany, as they work on the 18th hole during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Nelly Korda, left, walks past Sophia Popov, of Germany, as they work on the 18th hole during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Ayaka Furue, of Japan, hits off the ninth tee during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Ayaka Furue, of Japan, hits off the ninth tee during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Lucy Li hits off the ninth tee during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Lucy Li hits off the ninth tee during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Nelly Korda hits out of a bunker at the 18th hole during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Nelly Korda hits out of a bunker at the 18th hole during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Yuka Saso, of Japan, tees off at the 18th hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Yuka Saso, of Japan, tees off at the 18th hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Lydia Ko, of New Zealand, tees off of the 15th hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Lydia Ko, of New Zealand, tees off of the 15th hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Brooke M. Henderson, of Canada, shoots out of a bunker on the 18th hole during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Brooke M. Henderson, of Canada, shoots out of a bunker on the 18th hole during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Nelly Korda tees off at the 18th hole during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Nelly Korda tees off at the 18th hole during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

“I think every hole looks a little different. They’re all intimidating and great in their own way,” Korda said.

Korda is again the headliner this week as the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship tees off Thursday at Sahalee, the third major of the year on the LPGA Tour.

But she arrived in the Seattle area in a different place with her game than just a few weeks ago, when she showed up at the U.S. Women’s Open having won six of her previous seven starts, including a major at the Chevron Championship. At the time, no player in the world was on more of a roll than Korda and adding another major seemed probable, if not likely.

That didn’t happen. Korda missed the cut at Lancaster Country Club after an opening-round 80 that included a 10 on her third hole and watched as Yuka Saso went on to win the championship for a second time. When she returned last week at the Meijer LPGA Classic, Korda struggled to an opening-round 76 before shooting 67 in the second round, but missed out on playing the weekend by one shot.

“I’m just going to stay in my bubble this week and go out and try to execute my shots, be confident in what I have,” Korda said. “This golf course is already hard enough and if I’m going to put more pressure on myself, then I think it’s just going to make it even harder this week.”

Sahalee is the first course to host the tournament twice since the partnership between the PGA of America and LPGA began a decade ago and boosted the prominence and purse for this major championship. This year’s tournament has a record purse of $10.4 million.

The course measures just over 6,700 yards and water comes into play on only a handful of holes. It’ll play to a par 72, one stroke higher than 2016 as the 18th has been converted to a par 5. Players have noted the greens seem softer than 2016, although temperatures are supposed to push into the 80s for the first two rounds and dry out the putting surfaces.

But the favorite word for the week to describe the course seems to be “intimidating,” because of the tree-lined tunnels from which shots will emerge.

“It’s really tight for the tee shot. It’s I think a classic ball-striking course,” said defending champ Ruoning Yin, who won last year at Baltusrol.

One player who proved she can maneuver successfully through the trees is Brooke Henderson, who won the first of her two career majors in 2016 at Sahalee, beating Lydia Ko in a playoff.

At 18, Henderson was the youngest winner in the history of the event. She shot 65 in the final round to get into the playoff and birdied the first extra hole with a 7-iron from 155 yards to a couple of feet. The course unveiled a plaque this week from the location on the 18th fairway where Henderson hit that shot.

The memories are still fresh and came flooding back as Henderson, now 26 and 13th in the world ranking, made her way around the course.

“I love the huge towering trees and the tight fairways. It’s almost majestic. Feels very peaceful and amazing,” Henderson said.

At the same time, she was reminded of how claustrophobic Sahalee can feel and the importance of simply hitting the ball straight. Do that, and the place can feel downright serene.

“Every tee shot you have to really pay attention. Can never really take a break out here. Even the approach shots you got to know where the slopes are and where your misses are,” Henderson said. “But at the same time, if you’re playing well and you can kind of lean into the beauty that surrounds you and soak it in, it makes for a really nice walk around this place.”

AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf

Brooke M. Henderson, of Canada, putts on the green on the 18th hole during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Brooke M. Henderson, of Canada, putts on the green on the 18th hole during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Isabella Fierro, of Mexico, hits off the ninth tee during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Isabella Fierro, of Mexico, hits off the ninth tee during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Albane Valenzuela, of Switzerland, and Sarah Schmelzel, left, react to a photo on the eighth hole during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Albane Valenzuela, of Switzerland, and Sarah Schmelzel, left, react to a photo on the eighth hole during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Albane Valenzuela, of Switzerland, hits off the ninth tee during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Albane Valenzuela, of Switzerland, hits off the ninth tee during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Roberta Liti, of Italy, holds out her ball on the seventh green during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Roberta Liti, of Italy, holds out her ball on the seventh green during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Stephanie Meadow, of Northern Ireland, hits off the fifth tee during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Stephanie Meadow, of Northern Ireland, hits off the fifth tee during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Alexandra Forsterling, of Germany, smiles on the fourth green during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Alexandra Forsterling, of Germany, smiles on the fourth green during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Charley Hull, of England, talks with her caddie on the fourth green during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Charley Hull, of England, talks with her caddie on the fourth green during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Mone Inami, of Japan, hits out of the bunker on the fourth hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Mone Inami, of Japan, hits out of the bunker on the fourth hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Hinako Shibuno, of Japan, right, measures the fifth hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Hinako Shibuno, of Japan, right, measures the fifth hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Chisato Iwai, of Japan, smiles while working on the green of the 16th hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Chisato Iwai, of Japan, smiles while working on the green of the 16th hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Cydney Clanton hits a shot on the fairway of the 14th hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Cydney Clanton hits a shot on the fairway of the 14th hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Jin Hee Im, of South Korea, walks the fairway of the 16th hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Jin Hee Im, of South Korea, walks the fairway of the 16th hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Yuka Saso, of Japan, walks with her caddie to the green of the 17th hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Yuka Saso, of Japan, walks with her caddie to the green of the 17th hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Nelly Korda hits out of a bunker on the 18th hole during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Nelly Korda hits out of a bunker on the 18th hole during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Nelly Korda, left, walks past Sophia Popov, of Germany, as they work on the 18th hole during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Nelly Korda, left, walks past Sophia Popov, of Germany, as they work on the 18th hole during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Ayaka Furue, of Japan, hits off the ninth tee during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Ayaka Furue, of Japan, hits off the ninth tee during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Lucy Li hits off the ninth tee during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Lucy Li hits off the ninth tee during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Nelly Korda hits out of a bunker at the 18th hole during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Nelly Korda hits out of a bunker at the 18th hole during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Yuka Saso, of Japan, tees off at the 18th hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Yuka Saso, of Japan, tees off at the 18th hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Lydia Ko, of New Zealand, tees off of the 15th hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Lydia Ko, of New Zealand, tees off of the 15th hole during a practice round for the Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Brooke M. Henderson, of Canada, shoots out of a bunker on the 18th hole during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Brooke M. Henderson, of Canada, shoots out of a bunker on the 18th hole during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Nelly Korda tees off at the 18th hole during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Nelly Korda tees off at the 18th hole during a practice round for the Womens PGA Championship golf tournament at Sahalee Country Club, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Sammamish, Wash. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

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What to know about Evan Gershkovich's conviction for espionage in Russia

2024-07-19 22:38 Last Updated At:22:40

The trial of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich ended Friday with his conviction on espionage charges that he, his employer and the U.S. government have dismissed as fabricated. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Here’s what we know about the secretive process.

It took place in the Sverdlovsk Regional Court in the city of Yekaterinburg, about 880 miles (1,416 kilometers) east of Moscow. That's the city where Gershkovich was arrested in March 2023, while on a reporting trip.

The session was closed. Gershkovich was in court for the verdict and stood in the glass defendants' cage wearing a dark colored T-shirt. His head was shaved, just as it was at the start of his trial in June. It is not known whether he chose to shave it or whether he was forced to.

The judge sentenced Gershkovich to 16 years in a maximum security penal colony. The judge asked Gershkovich if he understood the verdict and he replied in Russian, “yes, your honor.” The judge asked if he had any questions and Gershkovich replied “no, your honor.”

As the press cameras were leaving court, someone shouted out “we love you Evan."

Gershkovich, the American-born son of immigrants from the USSR, is the first Western journalist arrested on espionage charges in post-Soviet Russia. Russian authorities, without presenting evidence, claimed he was gathering secret information for the U.S.

The State Department has declared him “wrongfully detained,” thereby committing the government to assertively seek his release.

The Journal's publisher, Almar Latour, and Emma Tucker, its top editor, called it a “disgraceful, sham conviction,” in a statement after the verdict. “Journalism is not a crime, and we will not rest until he’s released. This must end now,” Latour and Tucker said.

A top White House spokesman also called the proceedings “nothing more than a sham trial.”

“Evan has never been employed by the United States government. Evan is not a spy. Journalism is not a crime. And Evan should never have been detained in the first place,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday. “Russia has failed to justify Evan’s continued detention. He, like fellow American Paul Whelan, is simply being used as a bargaining chip.”

Gershkovich’s arrest came about a year after President Vladimir Putin pushed through laws that chilled journalists, criminalizing criticism of Russia’s war in Ukraine and statements seen as discrediting the military. Foreign journalists largely left the country after the laws’ passage, but some have trickled back in. There are concerns about whether Russian authorities would target them as animosity between Moscow and Washington grows.

After the verdict, Gershkovich is expected to be taken back to the detention facility in Yekaterinburg where he was held during the trial. Both the prosecution and defense have 15 days to appeal the sentence. If there’s no appeal, Gershkovich will be transferred back to prison.

If there is an appeal, Gershkovich will probably stay in Yekaterinburg until there is another hearing.

The process of transferring him can last days or even months, and it may only be clear where Gershkovich will serve his sentence once his lawyers are told that he has arrived at a prison.

Although Russia-U.S. relations are at their lowest point since the Cold War, the countries negotiated a swap in 2022 that freed WNBA star Brittney Griner, who had been serving a 9 1/2-year sentence for cannabis possession. Griner was exchanged for arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was imprisoned in the U.S.

The countries also traded Marine veteran Trevor Reed, who serving nine years in Russia for assaulting a police officer, and Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, who’d been serving a 20-year prison sentence for conspiring to smuggle cocaine.

Putin hinted that he would be open to swapping Gershkovich for Vadim Krasikov, a Russian serving a life sentence in Germany for the 2019 killing in Berlin of a Georgian citizen of Chechen descent. However, Germany’s willingness to cooperate is uncertain.

It could be months or years. Russian officials previously said a swap can only happen after a verdict, but it depends on when Moscow and Washington can reach a deal. Past experiences differ drastically.

Griner was exchanged about four months after her verdict. Reed was released in a swap 21 months after his. Whelan, convicted of espionage in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in prison, is still waiting.

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands listening to the verdict in a glass cage of a courtroom inside the building of "Palace of justice," in Yekaterinburg, Russia, on Friday, July 19, 2024. A Russian court convicted Gershkovich on espionage charges that his employer and the U.S. have rejected as fabricated. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison after a secretive and rapid trial in the country's highly politicized legal system. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands listening to the verdict in a glass cage of a courtroom inside the building of "Palace of justice," in Yekaterinburg, Russia, on Friday, July 19, 2024. A Russian court convicted Gershkovich on espionage charges that his employer and the U.S. have rejected as fabricated. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison after a secretive and rapid trial in the country's highly politicized legal system. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, second left, stands listening to the verdict in a glass cage of a courtroom inside the building of "Palace of justice," in Yekaterinburg, Russia, on Friday, July 19, 2024. A Russian court convicted Gershkovich on espionage charges that his employer and the U.S. have rejected as fabricated. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison after a secretive and rapid trial in the country's highly politicized legal system. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, second left, stands listening to the verdict in a glass cage of a courtroom inside the building of "Palace of justice," in Yekaterinburg, Russia, on Friday, July 19, 2024. A Russian court convicted Gershkovich on espionage charges that his employer and the U.S. have rejected as fabricated. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison after a secretive and rapid trial in the country's highly politicized legal system. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

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