SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. | She goes off on Thursday at 2:13 local time with Brooke Henderson and Lexi Thompson, 5:13 on the East Coast and early morning in Asia, prime viewing for a marque group on the first day of the U.S. Women’s Open at Olympic Club. But for the most recent major champion, Patty Tavatanakit could play with a marker in the first or last group of the day and be just as happy.
Patty Cool meshes perfectly in San Francisco with her Clint Eastwood aura and Johnny Miller game. In a week when everyone else has talked about how narrow the driving areas are on the Lake Course and how important it is to be patient out of the rough, Patty paused half a beat before giving an almost imperceptible shrug. “Back nine is pretty wide open,” she said. “I feel like a lot of the back-nine holes I can use driver. But obviously some of the holes you want to be on the fattest part of the fairway. I think on 18 I'm hitting hybrid off the tee because I think 3-wood is a little too far in.”
No part of Olympic is wide. The parts that are wider than a four-lane highway are reverse cambered in a way that eliminates half or more of the effective hitting area. The fact that the 21-year-old sees nothing but short grass only adds to the legend.
“The first goal here is you're trying to hit as many greens as you can,” she said. “I think that's going to be what separates the field. It's a little tough to get up and down, especially with the rough being (long and thick) like this. It's still a little bit of a guess every single time you're in there. But you've got to work your way around it.”
Patty won the ANA Inspiration with towering tee shots that regularly bounded past the 300-yard mark. A cold California wind and thick marine layer (they don’t call it fog out here) will keep those numbers in check. But distance is relative. She’ll be among the longest hitters in the field.
Will that distance help at a place like Olympic?
“A little bit, yeah,” she said. “I feel like the course is setting up wide and manageable. There's a little bit of forgiveness to it. I feel like it's not too much. It’s not like it’s just trying to penalize you. I think this course sets up pretty fair given how tough it is. I don't think this course is long, but if it's going to play long, you can't leave the rough this long. I feel like it's playing pretty fair.
“It's just out there. You're not going to only hit straight shots or just the same ball flight every day all day. For me, what would benefit my game the most is using all the tools I have as a player - hitting a low cut into it with the wind, and just being creative.”
She’s complimentary and appropriately challenged. But Patty doesn’t get intimidated. Standing on the first tee, aviator glasses hiding a steely stare, you wouldn’t be surprised to hear her say, “Go ahead, make my day.” In short, she doesn’t scare easily.
“I've played a lot of tough ones,” she said. “This is something different. You've obviously got to be sharp, think through your shots, and try to execute no matter which shot you're picking to hit.”
It surprises no one who has been around her that she went home to Florida after the ANA Inspiration win, put her feet up for a week and watched the Masters – exactly what she would have done is she hadn’t won. Nothing changed.
“I have reset my goals a little bit, still focusing on my process on the course,” she said of her new expectations as a major champion. “It's a mental ride for sure. You've got to be tough each week. There are going to be weeks where you're not feeling it, so you've got to grind your way through.
“If anything, I’d like to climb up in the world rankings a little bit more, as far up as I can. Not particularly trying to get to No. 1 this year because I know it's going to take a while and I've got to be patient with the process. And I’ve got to manage my time. I feel like I struggled a little bit in L.A. with just how much attention I'm receiving from a lot of people. I wasn't really used to that. If anything, I just like when people don't recognize me as much or just kind of leave me alone.”
That’s not going to happen. Being a major champion with a cool magnetism attracts people. She’ll get used to that, eventually.“I feel like I have a really good support group at home,” she said. “Every time I go home, I don't feel like I did something that changed my life. Everyone treats me the same, which is exactly what I want. It just goes to show that, no matter what you do, having people around you who love you for who you really is the most important thing in your life.”