There is something absolutely appropriate that the first round of the first LPGA major of 2020 was a true test of patience. This year has been all about adapting. And on Thursday one of the world’s great courses – Royal Troon – kicked off the AIG Women’s Open with a complete examination of shot-making and self-control.
Links golf by its nature is a special test, the humps and bumps, rambling runouts, brilliant bunkering and, on this day a three- or four-club wind, demand precision and patience. In parkland golf, the worry is when the ball is in the air; on a links course, concern begins after the ball lands and doesn’t end until it stops rolling.
Good shots can end up in bad places while misplays at times bound their way into perfect position. How the fickleness of what fortune serves up is handled goes a long way toward determining success in links play. Could there be a more appropriate metaphor for a year that has tested discipline and determination?
On a gusty day at Royal Troon, which hugs the Firth of Clyde on Scotland’s west coast, the key to scoring was to hold on for the first 11 holes – most into the wind – and then make hay down the stretch. The woman who did it best was Amy Olson, the North Dakota native looking for her first LPGA win.
Remarkably, she made only one bogey in the opening round – that was on No. 3 – and five birdies in a four-under-par 67 that was three strokes better than Marina Alex and Sophia Popov, who at one-under-par 70 were the only other players in red numbers.
“The conditions, honestly, were just so tough today,” Olson said. “It was the best ball striking day of my life, especially the first nine holes into the wind where you are hanging on for dear life.”
The safest place to be on Thursday was back in the bubble of the hotel and among the first sheltered from the punishing wind was Alena Sharp. She cuddled up with a cup of tea after signing for an even-par 71. Sharp’s round put a face on the demands of the day.
Playing in the first group at 6:30 a.m., Sharp hit her first shot out of bounds then rode the wind home for an inward 32 after using 39 strokes on the front side. Paired with amateur Olivia Mehaffey and Laura Davies, who had the honor of hitting the first shot in her 40th AIG Women’s Open, Sharp finished while many were just waking up.
“I hit my first shot out-of-bounds and made a double on the first hole, but it actually woke me up a little bit,” Sharp said. “After that I made a few putts and just grinded my way.”
How important is it to grind at Troon and stay patient? Danielle Kang, who won the first two events after the restart, was nine over par after 15 holes then finished eagle, birdie, birdie for a 76.
“I’ve never played in wind like that,” said Nelly Korda. “It was crazy,” she said after shooting 72. How windy was it? Korda says on No. 1 she hit her driver 187 yards. Olson matched that story with an 8-iron from 91 yards on No. 6 – which she hit to a foot for birdie.
“Where I grew up in North Dakota it gets very windy and I learned to hit the ball low,” Olson said. “We hit it high in the States, but when I come over her I can get it down again.”
While this is the first Women’s Open at Royal Troon, host to The Open nine times, it’s the 20th since Se Ri Pak won at Sunningdale in 2001, the first year the tournament was a major. In those 19 years, it’s showcased the global talent in women’s golf, with winners from 10 nations.
In 2003, Sweden’s Annika Sorenstam completed the career Grand Slam at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Lorena Ochoa of Mexico won the first Women’s Open at St. Andrews in 2007 and American Stacy Lewis took the title when it returned to the Old Course in 2013. Inbee Park of South Korea won her fourth different major and seventh overall at Turnberry in 2015.
Last year, Hinako Shibuno, only 20 and playing for the first time outside Japan, was totally fearless and completely charming as she birdied the last hole at Woburn for a final-nine 31 to win by one stroke. On Thursday, she went out in 41 and back in 35 to still be in the hunt.
On this day, everything about the Women’s Open was a major test. And it’s only beginning.
“It is a marathon,” Olson said. “There are three long days ahead and tomorrow is going to be like today. It’s about staying in the present and taking it one shot at a time.”
With only one player in the 60s, pretty much anyone who shot in the 70s is still very much in the hunt. The first round of the first major of 2020 was well worth it for those who’ve patiently waited – fans and players alike. No more waiting. Next on the tee: Round 2.