Rolex Rankings No. 1 Inbee Park’s quest to win a third straight major championship got off to a great start on Thursday at the U.S. Women’s Open conducted by the USGA. Park fired a 5-under 67 at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y. and she sits one shot back of first-round leader and fellow South Korean Ha-Neul Kim.
For most of the day on Thursday, it was Park at the top of the leaderboard in the year’s third major on the LPGA Tour. Park was the leader until nearly the last putt of the day dropped, as Ha-Neul Kim birdied her 17th hole of the day around 7:45 p.m. ET to take a one-shot lead over the No. 1 player in the world. Kim shot a bogey-free 66 to take sole possession of the first-round lead. Currently a member of the KLPGA Tour and a seven-time winner in Korea, Kim is playing in her first U.S. Women’s Open. “This is [my] first time in U.S. Open, and [I] didn’t think that [I’m] going to do it like this,” Kim said through a translator.
While it was Ha-Neul Kim at the top of the leaderboard at the end of the day on Thursday, all eyes on the first day of play at the U.S. Women’s Open were on Park as she seeks to achieve a rare feat this week.
Park, who won the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the Wegmans LPGA Championship earlier this year, is trying to become only the second player in LPGA history to win the first three majors in a season. Babe Zaharias accomplished the feat in 1950 when she won all three majors played that year – the Titleholders Championship, the Women’s Western Open and the U.S. Women’s Open.
Bad weather had been predicted to arrive along the Peconic Bay in eastern Long Island on Thursday but the winds remained calm early and the sun was shining for the majority of the day. The placid weather combined with some generous pin placements created prime scoring conditions for the first round of the U.S. Women’s Open and Park was one of the players able to take advantage. She made six birdies and one bogey en route to shooting 67, her career-low round at the U.S. Women’s Open.
“The USGA was a little generous on us today,” said Park, who won the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open at Interlachen. “A lot of tees were moved up. So instead of hitting like 5?irons, we were hitting 9?irons, and that was making the course much easier. I was actually able to go for some pins and give myself a lot of opportunities today. Yeah, I made a lot of putts and didn’t leave much out there.”
It has already been quite a year for Park in 2013. A win this week would be just the latest amazing feat for the 24-year-old South Korean. She has five victories so far this season, including the two major titles. She took over the No. 1 spot in the Rolex Rankings from American Stacy Lewis following her victory at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in early April.
Park’s impressive play, however, extends back to last season as she’s won seven times in her last 23 LPGA starts and has eight additional top-10 appearances over that span.
“I do have a lot of confidence in myself at the moment,” Park said. “The way I’m playing, the way things have been going, the way I’ve been getting the luck, I think I am in the zone. I’ve been playing my best in my career at the moment. I really just want to enjoy the moment.”
For those who have been watching Park’s dominant performance on the LPGA Tour over the past year, it’s no surprise to see her near the top of the leaderboard following Thursday’s first round at the U.S. Women’s Open. Even with all of the additional pressure and spotlight being put on Park as she seeks her third straight major victory, the ever-calm South Korean hasn’t changed her demeanor and the putts just keep dropping.
“She putts like that every week,” said Rolex Rankings No. 2 Stacy Lewis, who was paired with Park in the marquee group of the day. “I mean, it’s every round I play with her. She always putts like that. I think everything inside 10 feet, other than that last hole, she made everything. So that’s the way Inbee plays. She’s steady. She’ll hit a bad drive here and there but she’ll get up?and?down from 100 yards and that’s just her game.”
Sitting two strokes back of the leader Ha-Neul Kim and a stroke behind Park at 4-under-par are American Lizette Salas, Sweden native Caroline Hedwall and South Korean I.K. Kim. With one hole remaining in their rounds, both Kim and Hedwall were tied with Park for the lead at 5-under-par but both bogeyed their final hole to finish one shot behind the world No. 1. Salas birdied her final two holes to finish off her round of 4-under 68.
There are plenty of other players chasing as well, including Lewis. The Woodlands, Texas native is looking for her second career major title and she’s put herself in a solid position after the first round, shooting a 1-under 71.
“I’m excited with the way I hit the ball, especially some of those shots I hit at the end into 6 and 7 were really good,” Lewis said. “So I’m excited about where my game is. This is not a tournament you want to lead after the first day because it’s hard to maintain that for four days.”
Defending champion Na Yeon Choi also fired a 1-under 71 and sits in a tie for 17th.
Courtesy of USGA
One of the most anticipated events of the season is finally here as the LPGA Tour heads to Southampton, N.Y. for the 68th playing of the U.S. Women’s Open conducted by the USGA.
Sebonack Golf Club will be the backdrop for the season’s third major and will feature 156 of the world’s most talented golfers. The third of five majors this year on the LPGA provides one of the largest paychecks this season with $585,000 going to the champion.
Nestled on the Peconic Bay in eastern Long Island, the Sebonack Golf Club will suite any golfer’s eye with wide fairways and expansive bunkers, but the challenge comes on its tricky greens and pin positions. This week’s U.S. Women’s Open marks this first golf championship the course has played host to since it opened in 2006.
Last year’s U.S. Women’s Open was played at Blackwolf Run Golf Course in Kohler, Wis., where Rolex Rankings No. 4 Na Yeon Choi defeated fellow South Korean Amy Yang by four strokes. She became the second South Korean to win the Open at Blackwolf, which played host to the event in 1998 when Se Ri Pak began a golf revolution in her country following her victory in an 18-hole playoff. Both will be in Southampton this week seeking their second U.S. Women’s Open title.
The U.S. Women’s Open was established in 1946 and is the longest running women’s championship. This year’s champ will join a legacy of winner’s including LPGA greats like Annika Sorenstam, Laura Davies, Mickey Wright, Louise Suggs, Babe Zaharias and many others.
Record-breaker…Juli Inkster, who turned 53 on Monday, will be making her record-setting 34thappearance at the U.S. Women’s Open when she tees it up at Sebonack Golf Club this week. This appearance by Inkster breaks Marlene Hagge’s previous record of 33 appearances.
Inkster, a two-time winner of the U.S. Women’s Open, was given a special exemption by the USGA to play in this year’s tournament and she’s looking forward to having another opportunity to play in this special event.
“I just love the U.S. Open,” Inkster said. “Growing up that was the championship everybody wanted to win, so just being able to win it twice is a great thrill. The USGA gave me a special exemption to play this year, and I want to thank them for that. So I’m looking forward to playing. It’s a great golf course. It’s tough. It’s going to be a good test. So we’ll see what happens.