Su Oh might not have been expecting to carry the Australian hopes at the ISPS Handa Vic Open this week. After all, she’s spent all too much of the past three years sitting in the shade of Minjee Lee, her Olympic teammate who has surged to No. 7 in the world with a string of wins around the world including two triumphs here.
But 22-year-old Melburnian Oh is the leading local contender after two rounds at 13th Beach.
American Kim Kaufman (66 today on the Creek course) has the lead at 13-under par from Japan’s Haru Nomura at 11-under, while Oh is nicely-placed in third at 10-under after she carded a 68 on the Beach course to go with her opening 67.
Oh, a child phenomenon who qualified to play in a Women’s Australian Open at just 12, has been on a slow burn since but her improvement is quite steady in recent times. She was inside the top 60 in the points standings on the LPGA Tour last year, and while she is yet to win on the big stage, her world ranking has climbed to No. 78.
A win this week would be monumental for her, coming at home, with her family in the galleries and with the carrot of a two-year exemption to play on the LPGA, by far the biggest and most lucrative tour in women’s golf.
The failure of the 23-year-old Lee to fire this week – she is Even par, 13 shots from the lead – has left the way open for Oh to walk into the spotlight.
As an amateur Oh played in the final group with Lee when the Western Australian won here in 2014. But they have much more history than that: they were teammates in an Australian world championship victory before they turned professional, and members of the Karrie Webb scholarship group together as well, and Oh beat Lee in the 2013 Victorian amateur final in an epic contest.
Oh could have won the Vic Open in 2017 but lost her opportunity and finished tied-third . This time around, she is a more mature player. Today was a good example: she hit only eight fairways for the day but scrambled brilliantly with just 27 putts. “I definitely didn’t hit the ball as well as I could, or I can,” she said later.
Oh had four birdies in the front nine today including a delightful chip-in at the par-three third and a long bomb at the par-three seventh. As the winds increased she was quiet for the rest of the day but posted a 68, four-under on the Beach course, to move into contention.
“I’m feeling good,’’ said Oh. “I think I get a bit nervous still when I get on the first few holes, but those nerves are helping me because I started well. It’s a grind out there, tough playing. Looking forward to the weekend.’’
Those in front of Oh are well-credentialed. The 27-year-old leader, Kim Kaufman, is a member of the LPGA player’s advisory board who admits she’s had a lot to say about prize money for women in the game. Once the tournament was added to the LPGA Tour schedule late last year, and she regained her playing rights, it was a no-brainer to turn out for an event that has equal prize money.
“I was going to come regardless,’’ said Kaufman. “I was going to ask for an invite. I told them last year, I just think it's such a great thing they're doing, equal pay and we all want more prize money and equal prize money. Maybe it's not $10 million. But it is someone who's starting do this, I think it's awesome. “
Kaufman, who grew up on a golf course at Clark, South Dakota but is now based in Texas, eagled the par-five seventh hole on the Creek course and birdied the last two holes to finish with a flourish. “You know, last year was when I kind of heard about it (the Vic Open) and I've been pretty outspoken about coming down here and it's lived up to every expectation, which has been great,’’ she said. “I followed (Italy’s) Matteo Manassero and guys behind us and I think it's really cool and I'm just urging everyone to come play.’’
Veteran Karrie Webb is on the leaderboard in her first tournament since last August, rolling back the years with a string of five birdies in seven holes from the seventh to the 13th on the Beach course, and also making a nice birdie at the last to shoot 65, the lowest round of the day for the women.
The overnight leader, England’s Felicity Johnson, followed her opening 65 with a 74 on the Beach course to dip down to tied-ninth.