There are various ways to prepare for the U.S. Women’s Open. For Katie Burnett, a 10-stroke victory in her professional debut worked nicely.
Appearing in her first U.S. Women’s Open, Burnett, 22, of Brunswick, Ga., rode the momentum of her performance last week in the Michigan Open to submit a solid even-par 72 on Thursday at Blackwolf Run.
"I guess I got my feet wet," she said after battling the withering heat and humidity that added another dimension of difficulty to a demanding layout. "It was nice to just get a decent round of golf under my belt to start because I didn’t really know what to expect."
A round containing two birdies and two bogeys allowed Burnett to get in the clubhouse a cool two strokes behind the early leaders. It also allowed the former University of South Carolina standout to begin reassessing her goals for the week.
Of course, that process might have gotten started before she set foot on the property. Burnett arrived at Blackwolf Run fresh off an impressive 54-hole performance in the Michigan Open, where she shot 11-under 205 at Crystal Mountain Resort’s Mountain Ridge Course to defeat Michigan native Laura Bavaird by 10 shots. No one else in the field broke par.
"I thought it was a really good tournament to play right before I came here because I didn't want this to be my first professional event," said Burnett, who pocketed $5,500 and a crystal trophy for the victory. "And I thought the course set up worked really well for preparing me for this course. It was really tight. The rough was pretty tall."
"She did very well last week, so she came in here ready to play," said her swing coach, Jared Zak, who is on the bag this week as her caddie. "Our goal was to have her play one week in advance as a prep for this week – and it’s working well so far. The fairways up there were tighter than they are here, so we looked out at the course and thought, ‘This is not too bad.’ It was a good situation for her coming in."
Of course, there were some early jitters for Burnett, who finished fifth at the NCAA Division I Women’s Championship in May, the best finish ever for a Gamecock player.
"I’ve played high level before in NCAAs and stuff like that, but never this big of a tournament, so just a little bit nervous," she said. "And finally I calmed down about the third or fourth hole. My caddie was like, ‘It's just golf, just calm down.’"
She birdied her next hole, the par-4 14th, with a 10-foot putt to offset a bogey at the 12th. Burnett made a foray into red figures with a birdie at the par-4 fifth after knocking a 5-iron to 30 feet and burying the putt. A long wait at the par-3 eighth precipitated a poor tee shot that cost her a bogey, but she closed with a solid par at the tough ninth.
"Yeah, I really can't complain. I played really well," said Burnett, who hit 12 of 14 fairways but only nine greens. A putting performance that required 26 strokes was the key, however. "I don't think I could have played much better. I made a lot of really good putts … had a bunch of one-putts.
"This is the kind of round I thought I might shoot coming into it because I've been playing really well, and I really like the golf course."
Burnett is planning a trip to the LPGA’s qualifying tournament later this year, but she also is contemplating a move abroad, to Sweden, to perhaps compete on the Ladies European Tour.
"I'm going to try and qualify for both [the] LPGA and European Tour. Based on how that goes, I may stay here or may go over there for a little while and come back," Burnett said.
If nothing else, her experience in her home country is going quite well so far.
"It's pretty exciting. I'm pretty happy about it," she said. "But you know, I always say you can't win on the first day. So we'll see what happens the rest of the week."
New pro that she is, Burnett already knows a little about winning.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on USGA websites.