PINEHURST, N.C – It will be history in the making when the women tee it up on Thursday for the start of the U.S. Women’s Open conducted by the USGA at Pinehurst No. 2, the same venue where the men played the U.S. Open last week. (pictured above is Lexi Thompson by Getty Images)
The back-to-back U.S. Open Championships have drawn a lot of attention and now it’s the women’s turn to have the spotlight.
Headlining the field for the second major of the LPGA season is Rolex Rankings No. 1 Stacy Lewis, who becomes only the second American to enter the national championship holding the top spot in the world. Cristie Kerr was No. 1 back in 2010 at the start of the U.S. Women’s Open at Oakmont Country Club.
Inbee Park, who held the No. 1 spot in the rankings for 59 straight weeks before Lewis unseated her on June 2, will try to become the first player since Karrie Webb in 2001 to successfully defend her title. Park’s victory last year at Sebonack Golf Club was historic as she became just the second woman in LPGA history to win the first three majors in a season. Park is coming off her first win of 2014 at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic two weeks ago.
Park and Lydia Ko are the only two players who could unseat Lewis this week in the rankings. A victory by either player would guarantee the No. 1 spot while other scenarios are possible. Park needs to finish in a tie for fourth with only one player or better in order to have an opportunity to get back to No. 1 while Ko must finish in a three-way tie for third or better to have a chance to become No. 1. All of the additional scenarios are dependent on how the others finish.
A Challenging Test
Having watched the men compete on the same golf course last week, the ladies are fully aware of the difficult test that awaits them on Pinehurst No. 2. The course, which underwent a restoration in 2011 that introduced a more natural look, now includes some unique features including a native sandy area with wire grass that replaced the rough that had previously been there.
Stacy Lewis said that she tried to avoid the native areas during her early practice rounds this week, although she did take the opportunity to try a few practice shots out of the sandy spots to get a feel for how the ball might come off the club in those areas. Still, a different style of course doesn’t seem to faze Lewis.
“I love the golf course, I love the way you have to think your way around,” Lewis said. “You really have to — it’s position golf, it’s where do I need to be for every hole location and that suits my game. That’s the way I play every week. So I think I have that as an advantage.”
Lewis loves difficult tests but hasn’t fared all that well at the U.S. Women’s Open. Her lone top-10 finish came back in 2008 when she competed in her first event as a professional.
Changing of the young guards
Lexi Thompson is glad to not be the new kid on the block anymore. At 19 years old, she could be considered a veteran when it comes to playing in the U.S. Women’s Open. Thompson is making her eighth appearance at the national championship this week at Pinehurst and was nseated as the youngest player in history to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open when 11-year old Lucy Li made it into this year’s field.
Thompson’s first start came in 2007 at Pine Needles, just a five minute drive from Pinehurst Resort and Country Club. She was 12 years, 4 days, 18 days old at her U.S. Women’s Open debut and reminisced on her first experience on the big stage.
“I was just so excited to be there,” said Thompson. “I practiced my autograph on the drive up there to Pine Needles and I was just — it was pretty overwhelming. I got to see all the players I watch on TV and I was see excited to be there to tell myself, ‘all right, I’m actually playing this week.’”
Thompson would play nine holes after her press conference in the Tuesday practice rounds with Li and said her advice to the youngster would be simple.
“I would just say advice, just have fun this week,” said Thompson. “Take it as a learning experience. If this is what she wants to do for her life, she will learn off the other players and see what she needs to improve on. She’s 11 years old, I mean she needs to kind of grow like I needed to grow and get longer and that, but my experience at age 12 helped me out so much.”
Thompson has gotten used to having the “age” questions thrown at her but hesitated when asked if there’s an age too young to win.
“It’s kind of a tough question,” said Thompson. “If you’re good enough, you’re good enough to win. I don’t think it’s a matter of age, I think it’s a matter of talent and what you bring to the table.”
Thompson won the first major of the season at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first of her career, and said breaking through on the major stage has made preparation for this week easier.
“Having that Kraft Nabisco win and getting my first Major win under my belt has helped me out a lot coming into this U.S. Women’s Open,” said Thompson. “I definitely have a lot more confidence coming in this week. But I look at it as just another tournament, I’m not putting any extra pressure on myself. I’m just going out, trying my hardest, focus on one shot at a time and relax in between shots and not let it mentally drain me at a U.S. Open.”
A Dame among us
Laura Davies has long been considered royalty among women golfers but now the 50-year-old England native has an official title to go with her legendary status — Dame.
Five weeks ago, Davies received a letter from the Palace in London inviting her to be made a Dame as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours List. Davies joked that she expected the letter to perhaps be an invitation for tickets to Wimbledon, as it’s an offer that’s often extended to high profile athletes or celebrities in England. Instead, the four-time major champion found something much more surprising and an honor that ranks highest among anything she’s done over her 30-year career.
“I opened the letter and then obviously read it and it said you can’t tell anybody and do you accept it?” Davies said of the letter she received to become ‘Dame.’ “Obviously people do say no to it, God only knows why, but they do. But I had it signed and back in the letter box within about three minutes, I think. I ran up the road with my dog, we posted the letter and we went back and then I phoned my brother, because like I said, you can’t tell anyone, but I told my brother, my mom and my step dad, so they knew straight away and then I’ve been trying to resist telling people for the last five weeks. It was difficult.”
Michelle Wie arrived to Pinehurst on Sunday and made her way to No. 2 to catch the final groups in the men’s U.S. Open and fit in some practice on the palatial practice grounds onsite. The 24-year Stanford grad a self-proclaimed nerd said the experience walking inside the ropes on Sunday was one of a lifetime.
“So it’s nice to go out there, just, it was a cool golf nerd experience,” said Wie. “I mean just walking inside the ropes in the U.S. Open, watching it happen, it was pretty cool also to see history being made when Martin won.”
Wie didn’t take the scouting opportunities lightly this week. In addition to watching in person, she obtained the yardage books of both Rickie Fowler and Keegan Bradley and soaked up as much information as she could from her friends. She said having first-hand information at her fingertips will be invaluable.
“Actually just right before I came out for this press conference I laid all the yardage books down and I kind of compared notes,” said Wie. “And I think it’s definitely knowledge is key around here. Just knowing where to miss it, where not to miss it. It’s such a unique experience, just to kind of have the information, that information, that’s never really happened before.
“You normally go up to a golf course site, the information would probably be from like years ago from when they replayed it or something,” Wie added. “But this is pretty fresh information and it’s pretty similar conditions to what we’ll play it. So hopefully, I think it’s going to be very useful and I’m very thankful that they gave it to me for me to use. So I’m really happy about it.”
Rolex Rankings No. 4 Suzann Pettersen will be making her first appearance at a major championship this season after missing the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April due to a back injury. The two-time major winner said missing out on the major stage motivated her to a quicker recovery. The 13-year LPGA Tour veteran said she has her sights on completing the career grand slam.
“It was quite a bummer to miss Kraft,” said Pettersen. “I won two majors and I would really love to win the remaining three during the rest of my career and to miss Kraft, which has been a good major to me over the years, was very painful. It’s painful to miss any tournaments, but majors in particular.”
Pettersen thrives at the idea of playing on the hardest courses in tough conditions and played great golf in the major championship season last year. She finished in the top-5 in four of the five majors including a win at The Evian Championship. But her back injury early in the 2014 season derailed her plans to continue momentum from a strong 2013 campaign. After rest and rehab for nearly a month, Pettersen was able to get back to her routine and focused on making it to Pinehurst.
“Just really happy I’ve been able to work on my game, I played four events since my back kind of got better with the goal in mind to be able to contend in a U.S. Open,” said Pettersen. “So I’m ready for this week to get started and I’ve been able to prepare the way I have wanted to, so I can’t complain. Just happy to be back.”
Pettersen hasn’t taken the opportunity to play this week lightly. She visited Pinehurst three weeks ago for a practice round and said she watched nearly every hour of telecast of the men’s event last week.
“I just really like to watch the men play,” said Pettersen. “I think you can learn a lot. I was here three weeks, three four weeks ago to play the course, just to kind of have a better visual of kind of seeing the same thing that the guys would be faced with when they played. So if you know what the tee boxes and the fairways and the greens are, that the men are facing you can probably understand it a little better than if you haven’t seen it.”
The ultra-competitive 33-year old welcomes the idea of having the women challenged by the same track as the men.
“I think it’s a great and very cool thing to be faced with the same challenges as the guys just had last week. Obviously, there’s going to be two little bit different games, but you’ve got to hit fairways, which they’re fairly generous and I think this is probably the most fairways the most players have hit in most U.S. Opens that’s ever played.”
The way that Lucy Li plays golf may be well beyond her years but the 11-year-old displayed Tuesday that she’s still your average kid. Ok, a kid that reads Sherlock Holmes and books on Donald Ross course designs but one that still delivers an infectious giggle at the end of her answers during a press conference.
Li charmed the media during her first interview session at Pinehurst No. 2 on Tuesday afternoon, as much as she delighted those who watched her play during a practice round earlier in the day.
Dressed in a white-and-green polka dotted skirt with a green zebra designed t-shirt that featured sparkles on the sleeves and her hair in pigtails, Li looked every bit the youngster who won her age group at this year’s Drive, Chip & Putt at the Masters. Still, Li doesn’t take herself too seriously and she seems to be taking the fact that she’s made it to one of the biggest stages in women’s golf in stride.
“The perfect week, I just want to go out there and have fun and play the best I can and I really don’t care about the outcome,” Li said. “it’s just I want to have fun and learn. I can learn — I want to learn a lot from these great players.”
And while Li is now the youngest qualifier ever to make it to the U.S. Women’s Open, she’s content to not think too far into the future of what may lie ahead for her.
“I haven’t really thought about that,” Li said of whether she wants to play professional golf one day in the future. “Right now it’s just play as well as I can and it’s going to take — the game’s going to take me wherever it’s going to take me, so I just really don’t care that much.”
Quotes of the day
“Pinehurst is a mecca for golf. This is a great place. Everyone around here is golf nuts. Everybody, whoever you bump into, they know their stuff, they’re knowledgeable crowds. Yeah, I think this is a great stop for golf in general, men’s or women’s. So, yes, I would love to come back here.” — Suzann Pettersen on playing Pinehurst No. 2 this week
“It’s just a great honor. I won the M.B.E. in 1987 after I won the U.S. Open and the C.B.E. in 1996. I always thought you only got one upgrade basically. But I got the double bump so I’m in first class now, so it’s lovely.” — Laura Davies on being named “Dame.”
Source: LPGA Tour