KAWAGOE, SAITAMA, Japan | After a year delay and in blazing heat, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics finally got underway on Wednesday and the four female golfers for Team USA are right in early contention.
Rolex Ranking No. 1 Nelly Korda shot a 4-under 67 in the first round and sits tied for second, one stroke behind early leader Madelene Sagstrom of Sweden. With a heat index soaring above 110 degrees and no clouds to block the sun, Korda survived an up-and-down opening nine that featured four birdies and two bogeys, coming in with back-to-back birdies at 14 and 15 to secure a leading position.
“I'm hoping I'm in total control, it's golf at the end of the day,” said Korda, who is making her Olympics debut. “I kind of sprayed some shots out to the right on my last two holes with my irons, but you're going to have that, you're going to lose a little bit of concentration.”
Danielle Kang is the next highest American, sitting in a tie for seventh after an opening-round -2. She carded four birdies on the day, tempered by a double-bogey 6 at No. 9, but was still thrilled about her opportunity to represent the USA at the Olympic Games.
“Over the years I've learned that 72 holes is a lot of golf, four days,” said Kang. “The double bogey that I made on 9 was pretty costly, however, I'm trying on every single shot. At the end of the day I'm playing for something bigger than me right now and I just try and keep my cool and keep my patience and forget my bad shots as fast as I can and also forgetting my good shots as fast as I can.”
Jessica Korda shot even-par 71 on Wednesday, returning one birdie and one bogey on each side of her card. She’s no stranger to winning in hot climates, but even the seasoned veteran was taken aback by the day’s extremely taxing conditions.
“It was definitely probably the hottest I've ever been on a golf course and that's saying a lot. I've won in Thailand and I've won in Malaysia,” she said. “This is a whole another beast of heat when you feel it radiating inside the cups, you know it's pretty hot out there. So just trying to stay present was the goal today.”
Lexi Thompson survived perhaps the scariest moment of the day when her caddie Jack Fulgham was sidelined on the 15th hole with dehydration. With LPGA Player Services Director Donna Wilkins on the bag for the last three holes, Thompson wrapped up a round of 1-over 72 and is tied for 36th going into Thursday’s second round.
“I came into the day having a sore throat, not feeling great, and then dealing with my caddie just not being able to finish, it's tough,” said Thompson, the only returning 2016 Olympian for the Team USA women’s squad. “I was so worried about him and, I mean, it's so hot out there. I'm from Florida and I'm still not used to that bad of heat. But I just hope that he's okay and he gets the hydration he needs the nutrients tonight to go into the next few days. If not, I'll figure something else out. I just want him to be healthy.”
Fulgham is recuperating well and is expected to be fine, but Thompson’s caddie plans for Thursday are still to be determined.
Sweden’s Sagstrom shot a bogey-free 5-under 66 and holds the solo lead moving to Thursday. 2016 gold medalist Inbee Park is one of eight players tied for seventh with Kang, while 2016 silver medalist Lydia Ko is tied for 16th at -1.