Round one. It’s early. Far too soon to be drafting victory speeches or rearranging the mantel so a trophy will fit. But in a year where some gritty veterans have finally won after toiling for years in the hinterlands of “almost,” it’s not a stretch to look down the early leaderboard at the Dana Open presented by Marathon and think maybe it could happen again.
Amy Olson, who turned 30 last month, has been on the LPGA Tour nine years without a victory. She was a bridesmaid at two majors – the 2018 Amundi Evian Championship and the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open presented by ProMedica – that she felt she should have won. Olson has struggled with her ball striking this season and has been working on her golf swing, trying to get into her left side more to compress her shots and control her trajectory. She hasn’t made a cut on her own since the 14th of June and is currently outside the top 100 on tour in driving accuracy, greens in regulation, and putts per green in regulation – not the kind of combination that would lead you to think this could be her week.
But golf is fickle. Just ask Ashleigh Buhai, our most recent major champion, or last week’s winner, Paula Reto. They were afterthoughts to all but friends and family, right up to the moment they weren’t.
“I struck the ball, especially with my irons, really well,” Olson said after a 5-under par 66 on Thursday moved her near the top in the opening round. “I had a couple chances for bogey but made some good saves with the putter. The putter has been kind of the thing that was missing the last few weeks for me, so it just felt good to have kind of all aspects of the game and not having one weak point that I had to protect against.”
Tied with Olson at 5 under is Emily Kristine Pedersen, another player who has yet to hoist an LPGA Tour trophy despite a wealth of talent and potential. The Dane broke onto the scene in 2017 as one of Annika Sorenstam’s captain’s picks for the European Solheim Cup team. Since then, her career has nosedived, then soared to extraordinary heights when she won the Order of Merit on the Ladies European Tour in 2020, now nestling into untapped potential as she knocks on the door of an LPGA Tour win.
Pedersen has had a steady year, her best finish being a tie for fourth at the ISPS Handa World Invitational. But great talent comes with an equal helping of expectations. Pedersen knows she is due.
“It's playing a bit shorter than last week in Canada, so I was practicing my wedges, the shorter irons,” Pedersen said after her round on Thursday. “It's a little bit tight off the tee, so I was trying to actually step down my driving a little bit. Try and not swing it as hard but try and get a little bit straighter. So that worked out okay today.”
It’s hard to say that another of the players who shot 65 on Thursday and is tied at the top hasn’t lived up to expectations. Hye-Jin Choi is, after all, a rookie. But when you are ranked fourth on tour in greens in regulation, sixth in scoring average, tenth in eagles, tenth rounds in the 60s and eighth in sub-par holes played this season and haven’t yet won, a victory seems as inevitable as springtime rain. It’s not if it’s coming; it’s when and how big it will be.
So, if you’re looking at recent history and wondering, “Could we have another Rolex First-Time Winner this week?” Thus far, the leaderboard would lean you in the direction of “likely.”