The slogan of the Women’s Leadership Summit at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is “Inspire Greatness” and Thursday’s first round at Hazeltine National was nothing if not inspiring. With a brilliant mix of those who’ve achieved success and those pursuing it, the third LPGA major of the year served up a leaderboard that showcased the depth of talent in women’s golf.
Sitting on top after a rollicking opening round that was buffeted by wind and rain is Hannah Green, a 22-year-old second-year tour member from Australia who made every clutch putt she needed and holed out a bunker shot for birdie on her way to a four-under-par 68.
That made Green one stroke better than Hyo Joo Kim, winner of the 2014 Evian Championship, and Mel Reid, a 31-year-old Englishwoman with one top 10 in a major.
Knotted in fourth place with rounds of 70 are two-time major winners Ariya Jutanugarn and Sung Hyun Park; In-Kyung Kim, who has a major on her resume, and newcomers to this big stage Annie Park and XiYu Lin as well as Amy Yang, who has 17 top-10s in majors without a victory.
The gaggle of players at 71 includes another pair of double-major champions, So Yeon Ryu and Lydia Ko, as well as those chasing their first major, Angel Yin, Mirim Lee, Chella Choi, Carlota Ciganda and Moriya Jutanugarn.
Green, whose best finish in a major is T-16 at last year’s ANA Inspiration, was far from perfect on Thursday, but at 6,807 yards, the longest course in the 65-year history of the KPMG Women’s PGA, Hazeltine is providing a punishing test. Green hit only six fairways and nine greens but erased those mistakes with a putter she used only 23 times.
On the par-5 No. 7 – her 16th hole of the day – Green didn’t need to use her putter at all, holing out from a greenside bunker for birdie. While playing far from spotless golf she had a spotless scorecard with no bogeys and four birdies.
“I short-sided myself,” Green said about the wedge she tugged into the bunker on No. 7. “But actually had a really good lie which I think made a huge difference. As soon as it landed on the green I knew there was a chance of it going in. I guess I just had a lot of luck today with putts going in and getting good bounces."
Green, who may be the only professional golfer who doesn’t own a pair of rain pants – or at least is the only who will admit that – was more than inspiring in the way she overcame the elements.
“That was difficult,” she said. “I only brought one jacket and I was freezing cold. My caddy and I both really weren't prepared for the rain. Luckily there was a staff member from the course coming out with towels, otherwise I don't know if I would have been able to keep hold of the club.”
Talk about inspiring greatness, when Hyo Joo Kim won the 2014 Evian she bolted out of the blocks with a 61 in her very first round in a major, setting the single-round scoring record that still stands. The 23-year-old South Korean also tied with Ariya Jutanugarn after 72 holes in last year’s U.S. Women’s Open before losing on the fourth playoff hole.
“The course played really long today,” said Kim, who has three LPGA wins and 10 on the Korea LPGA. “I just wanted to play even par and that's kind of what was in my mind. Short game came together really well. I definitely think that tough courses kind of play to my game.”
Michelle Wie, who has known both summits and valleys, returned to competition for the first time in two months and tested her surgically repaired right wrist in Hazetine’s gnarly rough, which she found far too many times. She winced her way to a painful 84 and spoke emotionally after her round.
“It was kind of a little foolish to think that I would shoot really well, just hitting golf balls last week, at Hazeltine,” said Wie, whose wrist was operated on in October. She hasn’t competed since missing the cut in the LOTTE Championship in mid-April. Every aspect of her game was rusty as she missed fairways, missed greens and missed putts.
“I'm really, really happy that I played,” she said. “Just feeling a lot of joy just being out there, and, you know, competing again. It's going to take time and I've just got to be patient and thankfully I have all afternoon to get warm again and take care of my wrist.”
When asked how she balances her passion to play with the prudence of taking time off to recover fully, Wie had to fight hard to control her emotions, tears overtaking her.
“Yeah, it's hard,” she said. “It's just one of those situations where I'm not, you know, I'm not entirely sure how much more I have left in me so even on the bad day I'm just like trying to take time to enjoy it. But it's tough.”
The first day of the KPMG Women’s PGA proved to be a major test in every way. For Wie, it tested her love of the game. For others, it was a step toward one of the most coveted titles in women’s golf. For everyone, Hazeltine National was all they could handle and the golf was truly inspiring.