In a year where the only things missing so far are locusts and a frog plague, the mantra for 2020 has been: control what you can, accept what you can’t and adapt on the fly.
A microcosm of that philosophy has been the first two rounds of the AIG Women’s Open, where conditions at Royal Troon have included tropical-storm-strength winds mixed sporadically with a cold, north, sideways rain that hits the skin like pellets from a Gatling gun. Hanging on was the order of the first two days. And no one did that better than Sweden’s Dani Holmqvist, who enters the weekend at 1-under par after a solid round of 70.
“I grew up playing the British Am, and also played the Helen Holm (Scottish Women’s Open Amateur Championship) at this course, only one round at this course, though, but at the property,” Holmqvist said after a four-birdie, three-bogey round that included some solid par saves in the worst of the wind. “This (setting and weather) is different, very different, but I enjoy it.”
Holmqvist holds a one-shot edge over Austin Ernst and Sophia Popov and is two shots clear of a plethora of good players, including Lydia Ko, who is has rebuilt her game back to the form she had when she set almost every youngest-ever record in the game.
“I feel like every competitive round I get in, there's a bit more confidence that builds in,” Ko said. “The more times I put myself in contention or in a good position it gives me confidence about my game. (Swing coach) Sean (Foley) has been trying to get me to swing aggressively and freely and I feel like I hit it better that way. Sometimes it's easier said than done, but you know, I've just got to go out there and not worry about it and just believe in myself.”
Self-belief is a big part of Holmqvist’s success so far as well. After missing three cuts early in the year, she spent a lot of time at home in Jupiter, Fla., with PGA Tour veteran Brad Faxon, who has become one of the most sought-after short-game coaches in the world.
Faxon told LPGA.com, “I’ve known Dani for a few years. I met her at the Parneviks (that’s PGA Tour veteran and fellow Swede Jesper Parvevik and his wife, Mia). Dani had hinted to me a couple of times that she’d like for us to work together. But honestly, I wasn’t doing it that much. Finally, we went out to play nine holes with my wife, Dori, and Dani shoots like 31. My wife said, ‘You need to help Dani.’
“We got together a few times and as anyone who sees her can tell, she’s strong, she’s talented, she hits it a mile. It was really about having her believe in herself as much as others believe in her.
“We’ve worked on some technique stuff with pitches and chips. Routine is really important. How you practice and what you practice on the greens is really important. But it all worked. It’s fascinating how quickly it has all taken. Nobody knew how they were going to play coming out of this break and she’s played pretty well.
“I think she had a little self-doubt when she played with other players who are very good. She thought she had to hit every shot perfect. When she played with Jessica Korda, Jessica hits every shot straight. Well, I told her that’s not how the game is played. Every shot isn’t perfect. She finally understood that.”
“I think just sticking to my game plan (is the key),” Holmqvist said. “You can't really do more on this course than conditions allow. It’s about just trying to pick a line and pick a target and do my own thing.”
In addition to working with Faxon, Holmqvist used the break to rest and recover from a two-year-old back injury that occurred when a shuttle cart she was riding in China lost control and hit a wall.
“I had a disc, which is leaking, and also really inflamed facet joint,” she said. “So I injected that many times. Then it's just been rehab and ice and rest. You know how it is with backs. It's a long process and very tedious. It's an everyday thing. Hopefully it's getting better and better.
“For me this break has been kind of good to just be able to focus on rehab and heal and get a little bit stronger so I can be out here to perform again. But, yeah, it definitely has been a strange year.”
Strange is one way of describing 2020. Because of the COVID-19 restrictions and the bubble that players must maintain, one player in contention, Lindsey Weaver, chose to forego a caddie, an option given to players for the remainder of the 2020 season.
Weaver, who pushed her own trolly around the course, shot 1-over 72 and enters the weekend two shots out of the lead.
“I feel like it's kind of back to the basics,” the 26-year-old Weaver said. “This is how junior golf was. This is how college golf was and on the Symetra Tour when I played there for a year. I mean, it's still just golf. Like I'm still making the final decision at the end of the day.”
Minjee Lee is also 1-over par entering the weekend while first-round leader Amy Olson struggled during the worst of the conditions on Friday, shooting 81.