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5 things we learned: Thursday at the U.S. Women’s Open

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The Olympic Club’s Lake Course is the perfect venue for a competition edged with a bit of architectural controversy. Blend narrow fairways, overhanging trees, oddly-placed bunkers and tilted putting surfaces, and you’ve a recipe for debate and finger-wagging. Thursday at the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open saw eight golfers break 70, seven more break par, and a few leave the grounds of the venerable San Francisco club scratching their heads, uncertain over what just happened.

The co-leaders stand at 4 under par after 18 holes. Some 25 other golfers finished within four shots of that number. With 54 holes left to be played, much remains unknown about this year’s event. Nevertheless, there were five things that we learned on Thursday at the national championship of the USA, so let’s unpack them and find out more about the 2021 US Women’s Open.

1. Angel Yin might finish it off this year

Two years ago, the long-hitting youngster tied for 2nd at the national open championship. Held at the country club of Charleston, the event featured a traditional golf club with a demanding golf course. Yin held up well and used the event as a springboard toward making her second U.S. Solheim Cup side. This year, Yin was the only player in the top 10 to truly solve the closing holes at Olympic. While everyone else gave shots back at the par 5-par 4 concluding stretch, Yin gained back three strokes with hear eagle-birdie finish. Sure, it might be an early-week, one-time fluke. If we see her repeat the feat, watch out for Yin come Sunday.

2. Being the best doesn’t work out every week

Nelly Korda is currently ranked fourth in the world, the highest rung for any golfer from the USA. Korda opened with 78 at Olympic, good for a tie for 119th spot, 11 shots behind the leaders. Other big numbers turned in by pre-event favorites were 76s from Sophia Popov and amateur Rose Zhang, and 75s from Patty Tavatanakit and Anna Nordqvist. Korda was undone by a triple-bogey seven at the 260-yard seventh hole. The young Floridian lost a hybrid right, slashed around the rough a bit, and took three putts from the top of the two-tiered green. Olympic will demand immeasurable amounts of patience from its winner this week. If it is to be Nelly Korda, she will need to complete an incredible comeback.

3. Just don’t lose the tournament on day one

It’s an old adage, and pairs with the notion that no one wins an event on day one. Golfers like Inbee Park, Lydia Ko, and Ariya Jutanugarn didn’t light the course up on Thursday, but they didn’t handcuff themselves, either. Each shot even-par 71 to preserve a chance at the title. At minus-one are Jeongeun Lee6 (the 2019 winner of this event) Jennifer Kupcho, and Marina Alex. A case can be made for any of these golfers to be in contention on Sunday afternoon. Unlike those who struggled, these golfers found a way to preserve a shot at the title. Most days at the Open, it’s not about the birdies you made, but the bogies that you avoided.

4. Defending champion A Lim Kim struggles

As dominant and poised as the young Korean golfer was at Champions last December, she was not today at Olympic. Kim scribbled two 7s and six 5s on her scorecard, on her way to an opening 79. Golf is fickle, and major-championship golf, doubly so. Kim never locked into the quirky California course. She stood three over par before she reached the third tee, and didn’t make a birdie until the 15th green. 2020 runners-up Amy Olson and Jin Young Ko are shaking their heads, wondering where this round was last December for Kim. Incidentally, Ko opened with 70, while Olson signed for 73, during this year’s opening day.

5. And the winner is …

It’s never to early to make an incorrect prediction on who will hoist the sizable trophy on Sunday! I like Lexi Thompson, the long-hitting Floridian. Lexi has never proven that she can win on narrow, nail-biter courses, but 2021 shows us a new and improved model, built for U.S. Open success. Thompson opened with 69, and finds herself two behind English pro Mel Reid and USA amateur Megha Ganne, the round-one leaders. Thompson won’t go low any of the next three days, but she will play consistent golf and win her second professional major title.

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

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  1. Ronnie Mundt

    Jun 5, 2021 at 7:19 pm

    Lexi Thompson caught up in some Covid contact tracing. You heard it here first.

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5 things we learned Friday at the U.S. Women’s Open

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Here’s a bit of a primer on how we compose our 5 Things series during major championship weeks. Thursday’s review is Hopes and Dreams, as 54 holes remain, and it is always the day with the most surprising results. Friday’s recap is A Farewell to Thee, as we bide adieu to half the field. Still too early to truly understand who might win. Saturday, moving day to most, is Position Round for us. Players stake out an advantageous spot from which to attack on Sunday. Day four is Cauldron, when the tension bubbles like lava, and golfers make a name for themselves.

Thus, we find ourselves saying good-bye in this update, knowing that the hopes and dreams of many have been erased, but that they will rise again to compete in less than a week. The leaderboard is less compacted, thanks to Yuka Saso’s move to minus 6.

Let’s run down five important elements of the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open at the Olympic Club, as they will paint the background of the tournament canvas.

1. Farewell to thee

Defending champion A Lim Kim, current British Open champion Sophia Popov, world No. 4 Nelly Korda, and a spate of former champions (Wie West, Sung-hyun, Lang, Creamer, Eun-hee) will miss the weekend. All in all, that’s not a lot of big names. We’re in for a treat this weekend. Lots of short irons into elevated greens with plenty o’ tilt to them. Approach shots will dance and putts will fall. Simply put, the best golf on television this weekend.

2. Meg Thee Pairing

Tied for third position, a pair of shots behind the leader, are Megan Khang and amateur Megha Ganne, both from the USA. Megan Thee Khang added a minus-1 effort to her opening minus-3 with birdies at the first, 12th, and 17th holes. Megha Thee Ganne reached minus 6 after a 10-foot birdie putt at the wee seventh. A pair of back-nine bogeys dropped her back to where she began. She then finished birdie-par-bogey to gain a spot in the penultimate pairing.

Can a 17-year old amateur win? We say yes, but we’re not picking her. Can a 23-year old professional with no victories, win? Absolutely, but not our choice. It’s the U.S. Open, baby! It’s Open for just that reason.

3. Philippines Represent!

Yuka Saso won a pair of medals at the 2018 Asian Games. On Friday in San Francisco, the Filipina 19-year-old tossed a stellar 67, one shot off the day’s low round of 66. Saso had six birdies against a pair of bogeys and took a one-shot lead over former U.S. Open champion Jeongeun Lee6. Saso has 10 birdies through two rounds and will need to keep sizing her nest over the next two days in order to have a shot at the winner’s trophy. Birdie both days at the tricky 18th bodes well. Nothing like finishing strong for added confidence.

4. Classic courses suit her

In 2019, Jeongeun Lee6 won her only USA event at the Country Club of Charleston. The Seth Raynor course hosted the U.S. Open that year, and Lee6 won by two shots over a triumvirate of chasers. This year, Lee6 finds herself in the final pairing for round three, one stroke behind the leader. Olympic Club’s Lake Course is a William Watson design. Watson is not as well known as other Golden-Age architects (Colt, Raynor, Travis, Macdonald, MacKenzie, Ross, et al.) but his work is enviable and playable. Attempting to close her second round with four consecutive birdies, Lee6 left her putt for three at the last six inches short, in the jaws of the cup.

5. Who do we predict will win?

We’re still big on Lexi Thompson. She finished runner-up to JL6 in 2019 and lurks at 2-under, four off the lead. Lexi has made a pair of bogeys each day. She’ll need to up her birdie count to have a run at the title. What will determine her fortune? The putter, the one club that runs hot and cold for the 26-year old champion.

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Morning 9: True test ahead at Olympic Club | speaking of rough: Thick stuff aplenty at Muirfield Village | Bubba talks mental health

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Good Thursday morning, golf fans.
1. True test ahead at Olympic Club
Emilia Migliaccio for Golf Channel…”Drop a ball in the rough and crouch to eye level … the ball disappears. Players flood the short game area to practice their rough finesse, but and shot longer than chip from this stuff and there’s little to no chance to reach the green. Get ready for lots of punch-outs to those narrow fairways as this week harkens back to U.S. Opens of old.”
  • “…It’s hard. I love it. Small greens, high rough. Yeah, it’s going to be difficult, but I’m super excited about it,” said Jessica Korda. Her sister, Nelly, gave a similar analysis: “Tight fairways, high roughs, small greens. It’s going to be a shot-making golf course, and I can’t wait to get started on Thursday.”
2. …speaking of rough: Thick stuff aplenty at Muirfield Village
Steve DiMeglio for Golfweek…”one feature of the course felt all too familiar.”
  • “The rough.”
  • “I felt bad for the (amateurs) today,” 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed said Wednesday. “When they got in the rough, they just kind of looked down and the first reaction was to look at me and ask what do I do. And I’m like, ‘Guys, it’s a hack out.’ It’s take a wedge, hit it sideways for them.”
  • “…I haven’t seen rough like this really ever,” Reed said. “My first practice round I played I just played the front nine on Monday and I missed the fairway by maybe a yard on hole 6 to the right and Kessler (Karain, his caddie) and I spent at least five to seven minutes searching. We couldn’t find the golf ball. And it is that brutal, that thick, that nasty.
3. Heck’s wild ride continues
Beth Ann Nichols for Golfweek…”Rachel Heck’s incredible streak of strong play could only be stopped by one thing: a positive COVID-19 test. At least that’s what it seemed for a scary 24-hour period during which the Stanford freshman called her mother in the middle of the night in Memphis with the news.”
  • “She went into a quarantine dorm for a brief spell but ended up being cleared before she had to spend the night. (There’d been an entire batch of false positives.)”
  • “Heck came to The Olympic Club in the midst of final exams. Her stuff is packed up in boxes and sitting in an empty dorm room, ready to be shipped back to Tennessee. She has a paper due in a political science class that she told herself she’d write on Monday, but then didn’t start it until Tuesday and it’s due on Friday.”
  • “That’s the plan, to finish it today,” she said. “Will it happen? No. But that’s the plan.”
4. JT bankrolling Visacki
PGATour.com’s Ben Everill…”The world No. 2 felt compelled to help Visacki in any way he could. That included reaching out to play practice rounds and also to help financially. The latter was not meant to be public, but a video surfaced at last week’s Charles Schwab Challenge where the two interacted after a check for an undisclosed sum was handed over.”
  • “I was a little irritated that it got out. I didn’t really want it to. That wasn’t the intention of it. I just saw the video of Mike calling his dad after he Monday’ed in Valspar, and in a day and age where it seems like only anything in the media is negative…, I just felt it was so refreshing and great to see and how genuine his excitement and emotions were,” Thomas said ahead of the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide.
  • “It was great because I haven’t been in a great place, both mentally and on the golf course…, and I felt joy out of seeing his joy and it just kind of totally made me forget about what’s going on in my golfing life and sometimes puts things in perspective that obviously we’re all out here to play golf and we’re all out here to try to win a lot of golf tournaments, but changing people’s lives and helping people who are less fortunate than you is sometimes, you know, more important than that.”
GolfWRX may earn a commission of “GolfWRX Recommends” products.
5. Bubba on mental health, Osaka
Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard…”In what has become a surprisingly polarizing issue, Watson is one of a very few who can truly understand what motivated Osaka to skip her media obligations this week at Roland-Garros and then withdraw from the Grand Slam event.”
  • “Osaka spoke of dealing with depression and anxiety and how interactions with the media created unwanted doubt. She spoke of being vulnerable and not a “natural public speaker.” She skipped her post-round interview following her first-round victory and was fined $15,000 before announcing her withdrawal.”
  • “…Watson could sympathize as he settled into his virtual press conference Wednesday at the Memorial.”
  • “I can sit here and draw up a whole story for you. I’m sitting in a room right now with cameras looking at me,” Watson said. “I don’t like enclosed places. I don’t like elevators. I don’t like heights. I mean, there’s a lot of things that trigger a lot of my mental issues.”
6. Canadian Women’s Open canceled
AP report…”The LPGA Tour’s CP Women’s Open was canceled Wednesday because of logistical challenges and border restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
  • “The event was scheduled for Vancouver’s Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club on Aug. 26-29. Golf Canada and Canadian Pacific said Shaughnessy will host the 2023 event and that CP has its extended title sponsorship an additional year through 2024.”
7. Brooke looking for USO breakthrough
Emilia Migliaccio for Golf Channel…”The U.S. Women’s Open holds a special place in Brooke Henderson’s heart because at 15 years old, it was the first cut she made on the LPGA Tour and then at 17, she finished T-10 and placed low amateur.”
  • “I got to be on the 18th green when Michelle Wie was awarded her trophy [in 2014], which is a pretty incredible feeling,” said Henderson on Wednesday who is making her ninth appearance at the U.S. Women’s Open and looking to win her first this week at The Olympic Club.
  • “…It gives me a lot of confidence [to be a major champion] because sometimes you wonder how you’re ever going to be able to finish four rounds or be able to play well on golf courses this challenging. Mentally, I’ve made a lot of gains as of recently, and physically I’m always working hard to improve every day.”
8. Kokrak’s putter switch pays dividends
Our item for the PGA Tour’s Equipment Report…”Jason Kokrak made more than 200 PGA TOUR starts before earning his first victory. Now he has won twice in a matter of months, after staring down local favorite Jordan Spieth at last week’s Charles Schwab Challenge.”
  • “The 36-year-old ranks fifth in this season’s FedExCup standings thanks to wins at Colonial and the CJ CUP @ SHADOW CREEK in October. He has finished in the top 25 in nearly half his starts this season and sits fifth in the FedExCup standings.”
  • “Adjustments made in late 2020 to Kokrak’s Bettinardi Studio Stock 38 putter are bearing serious fruit. It was Kokrak’s caddie, David Robinson (no, not that David Robinson), who recommended that his boss move to a longer putter. The 6-foot-4 Kokrak now uses a 36-inch shaft in his putter, which improves his grip on the putter.”
9. Tour Truck Report
Not a ton going on at Muirfield Village this week! The most notable nugget we’ve heard from sources so far is Rory McIlroy, continuing his return to what’s worked in the past, is making a return to his Mitsubishi Kuro Kage XTS driver shaft. While we don’t yet have word on weight and flex, it’s presumably the same 70 X model he used in 2019-2020.
  • A morsel not as tasty as a Muirfield Village milkshake, admittedly, but Hideki Matsuyama is testing the prototype Piretti putter pictured below. No stranger to kicking tires on a couple (or a dozen) of putters prior to a tournament and ultimately returning to his gamer, Hideki is anything but confirmed to be putting this beauty in play, but it’s ours to admire, nevertheless.
  • Rory McIlroy is expected to put a Kuro Kage XTS shaft in play in a SIM2 Max head.
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Tour Photo Galleries

Photos from the 2021 Memorial Tournament

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GolfWRX is live at Jack’s place for the 2021 Memorial Tournament. As always, a strong field has turned up to take on the Golden Bear’s track.

Past winner Bryson DeChambeau as well as Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Patrick Cantlay, Jon Rahm, and Jason Dufner will all tee it up this week.

We have a buffet of general galleries for your viewing pleasure and a number of special galleries that include some very cool new putter covers and a custom Hideki Matsuyama flatstick.

General galleries

Special galleries 

See what GolfWRXers are saying in the forums. 

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