Dec 11th, 2020
Olson aces opening round at U.S. Women's Open
American leads after a round that included a hole-in-one
Photography: USGA/Jeff Haynes/Simon Bruty/Chris Keane
Aside from these obvious differences, which includes championship personnel wearing masks due to COVID-19, many things about the championship are similar. Everyone in this 156-player field wants to hoist the beautiful silver trophy and receive the inaugural Mickey Wright Medal late Sunday afternoon, along with that hefty $1 million first-place cheque.
Because of the pandemic, qualifying was cancelled, so an all-exempt field was assembled to have the look and feel of a typical U.S. Women’s Open.
The first-round leader board exemplified that diversity. Amy Olson, seeking her first win since turning professional in 2013, topped the field on Day 1 with a 4-under 67 on the 6,617-yard Cypress Creek Course.
One stroke back are three golfers, two of whom are making their U.S. Women’s Open debuts. Rookies Hinako Shibuno, of Japan, the 2019 Women’s British Open champion, and A Lim Kim, of the Republic of Korea, were joined by Moriya Jutanugarn, the older sister of 2018 champion Ariya Jutanugarn. Shibuno played Cypress Creek, while the latter two were on the 6,533-yard, par-71 Jackrabbit Course. Jutanugarn had the only bogey-free round.
Seven golfers are two strokes back, including Sophia Popov, of Germany, who produced the story of the year in golf when she won the AIG Women’s British Open at Royal Troon in August as the No. 304-ranked player in the world.
Also in that group is Arizona State sophomore Linn Grant, of Sweden, who was just four strokes off the lead through 36 holes two years ago at Shoal Creek before struggling on the weekend. Grant and Popov both played Cypress Creek.
The remaining players at 2 under are Gerina Piller, Charley Hull, Linnea Strom, Patty Tavatanakit and Yuka Saso, a U.S. Women’s Open rookie who was a semifinalist in the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur and 2019 U.S. Girls’ Junior. All but Saso played Jackrabbit on Thursday.
The two layouts being used this week couldn’t be more different, despite their proximity. Cypress features wide fairways and large green complexes. Jackrabbit is tighter with smaller greens.
Olson hopes to continue the same mojo from Thursday’s opening round Friday on Jackrabbit. That momentum started with a hole-in-one with an 8-iron on the 139-yard, 16th hole, her seventh of the round, which moved her to 1 under. From there she added birdies on Nos. 17, 1 and 8.
“Obviously the hole-in-one was the highlight of the round,” said Olson, who now has two in competition. “I hit the ball really well off the tee. I ended up giving myself some good chances for birdie, but I really made some putts that I definitely wasn't necessarily thinking birdie on, and that helped.”
The Fargo, N.D., native, had a highly decorated junior and amateur career that included winning the 2009 U.S. Girls’ Junior, amassing a record 20 collegiate titles at North Dakota State and representing the USA in the 2012 Curtis Cup Match. Since joining the play-for-pay ranks, she surprisingly hasn’t cracked the winner’s circle. There have been plenty of chances, however.
She was in the final group on Sunday at the ANA Inspiration in 2018 before finishing tied for ninth. Later that summer, she was in position to win The Evian Championship, but a double bogey on the 72nd hole allowed Angela Stanford to sneak past her and win her first major.
Earlier this year, she was the runner-up in the ISPS Handa Australian Open. As an amateur in the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open, Olson briefly held the first-round lead with a 69 only to fade on the weekend and finish 63rd.
“Coming out here I expected to win really early,” said Olson. “It always kind of came easy to me in college. I won the U.S. [Girls’] Junior just my second time playing the event. It's not easy to win out here. The biggest thing I've learned is just perspective and what do I consider success, and at the end of my life it's not going to be a number of tournaments that I've won, it's how I live my life, so trying to maintain that perspective, I think, is really important for me.”
For a good portion of Round 1, Megan Khang, a 23-year-old Massachusetts native seeking her first professional win, topped the leader board. She birdied four of her first five holes on Jackrabbit and was 5 under after 10 before giving most of it back, closing with a double bogey on 18 for a 1-under 70.
Saso, who turned down a scholarship to the University of Georgia after qualifying for the LPGA Tour of Japan last fall, also briefly stood atop the leader board after playing a bogey-free outward nine on Cypress with four birdies. She bogeyed 11 and 18 coming home.
“It's really different,” said Saso of playing a major in the U.S. “The golf courses are tough. It's long. Greens are firm. I have to use driver off the tee, but JLPGA sometimes I have to use shorter clubs. So yeah, I think that's the big difference.”