Oakmont, Pa. – Kelli Shean eased the hug with her father, Stephen, only to have him embrace her tighter.
After the intimate father-daughter moment, Stephen Shean stepped aside, his eyes reddened by tears.
Pride. So much pride, he said of his immediate feelings for his 22-year-old daughter, who shot a 1-under-par 70 and held a share of the early Thursday evening U.S. Women’s Open lead at Oakmont Country Club. Brittany Lang would later trump that with a 2-under 69 for the overnight lead.
Nothing, though, was going to dampen the mood of this South African contingent that had an Arkansas twang thrown in. As Shean, of Cape Town, South Africa, and an amateur preparing for her senior season at the University of Arkansas, did a quick on-air interview with NBC Sports analyst Roger Maltbie, friends and family formed a semi-circle around the session.
The group included her father, uncle Clive Holmes – both of whom made the 19-hour flight from Cape Town, South Africa – boyfriend/caddie Rackley Chandler, and Razorback coaches Mike Adams and Shauna Estes-Taylor.
And back in South Africa, two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els, who won here in 1994, had been watching and later sent his well wishes along.
That's kind of unbelievable, said Shean, whose game took newsContent when she joined the Ernie Els Fan Club Foundation, a program developed to help junior golfers. I don't really have words to explain that.
But Shean is no fluke.
She was medalist at the St. Louis, Mo., sectional to qualify for her first Open and among the highlights of her amateur career was helping South Africa win the 2006 Women’s World Amateur Team Championship in her home country.
Estes-Taylor said there was a gameplan in place for the week, but a 1-under 70 might have been hard to fathom.
She’s very talented and has a lot of skill, she said. But, as they say, you have to have a little luck and she got some good breaks out there.
The par-4 third hole, for instance. Shean’s tee shot found the fabled Church Pews.
Those are really famous, she joked. I thought I'd go in there for a change. No, I got lucky. I had a swing out of there.
She hit a 7-iron fat to just short of the green, and made an up-and-down par to remain two under through her 12th hole.
The par at the pews, the putt to save par? That was ridiculous, Stephen said.
As for the overall day?
That was the cherry on the top, he said, adding that the primary goal for Team Shean was to make the cut. It’s just unbelievable.
Another day like today may bring a second round of hugs.
Tale Of Two Nines
Chie Arimura succinctly summed up her opening round in the 65th U.S. Women's Open. Morning was OK. Afternoon was not really as good, she said after her 3-over-par 74 at Oakmont.
Arimura, 22, of Japan, was among the early leaders at one under par after going out in 35, but she bogeyed four of her last six holes, her score rising along with the heat index.
Chie Arimura had an awkward moment on Wednesday, but posted a solid opening round on Thursday at Oakmont Country Club. (Hunter Martin/USGA)
It sort of mirrored her final day of preparation for the year's toughest championship, which got slightly discombobulated.
Arimura was scheduled to play a practice round early Wednesday, but notified USGA officials that she was canceling that time and instead playing late in the afternoon. Somehow that got interpreted by USGA officials as a declaration that she was officially withdrawing from the championship. LPGA Tour rookie Katie Kempter, the first alternate, even started a practice round before the miscommunication was corrected.
"I don't know what happened," Arimura said through her caddie, Lionel Matichuk, who doubles as an interpreter.
She also didn't know what happened to her on the way in Thursday, though Matichuk had an idea. "That's Oakmont," he said with a shrug.
Arimura, playing in her first U.S. Women’s Open, hit nine fairways and 11 greens in regulation and was respectable with the putter, taking 33 putts. Another highlight: she did not have more than a bogey on her card, which not many other players could claim on the pernicious Oakmont setup.
My iron shots were good, but I never got a feel for the greens, said Arimura, who has competed in three LPGA Tour events this year.
Asked if she was happy with her round overall, Arimura shook her head and smiled. It was pretty good.
The Good Husband
Mhairi McKay was a little apprehensive about having husband Dave Smith carry her bag for one of the biggest championships in women’s golf. Smith is an electrical engineer for the Los Alamos (N.M.) National Laboratory and McKay described him as a neophyte in terms of golf knowledge.
He’s still learning, said the 35-year-old Scot. He likes ice hockey.
But when McKay qualified for this event in May at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo., Smith caddied and she figured the trip to western Pennsylvania could be a family affair. The couple’s 14-month-old son, Angus, also is here but was in daycare while mom posted an even-par 71.
Dave is real enthusiastic and wants to help, said McKay, a former Stanford University standout who participated on two Great Britain and Ireland Curtis Cup Teams (1994 and ‘96) that never lost to the USA. The ‘96 team was the last to beat the USA in the biennial event. He stays out of the way and at the same time encourages me. I figured to have somebody that supportive on the bag would be great.
To share an experience like the U.S. [Women’s] Open and at such a special place like Oakmont, it’s nice to be able to share that with your husband.
McKay and Smith actually met at a wedding. McKay’s best friend from college married his best friend from college.
When asked how she handles being a new mom with her golf career, McKay responded: My practice schedule is a lot different. When you have a 14-month-old, your priorities change a lot.
At Wednesday’s USGA press conference, Mike Davis, the senior director of Rules and Competitions, said the expected pace of play for the early groups was 4 hours, 34 minutes and just under four hours for the weekend when players are paired in twos.
The first groups on Thursday went nearly an hour over that allotted time. In fact, McKay’s group, which was the first to go off No. 10, was put on the clock three holes into the round. They managed to get back into position and had a brief wait on the first tee after making the turn.
Morgan Pressel, the 2005 runner-up, was quite shocked to hear the set pace-of-play number.
Four thirty-four, is he crazy? said Pressel about Davis’ estimate. I could have told you yesterday that it was going to take forever. Maybe it’s 4½ hours playing twosomes. You’re just going to have so many long putts, and there is no letting up on any shot.
You can play in 4½ hours when you’re shooting under par. But when you have players shooting in high 70s on average, it’s going to take a long time.
McKay recalled rounds taking nearly seven hours at the 2007 Women’s British Open contested on the Old Course at St. Andrews.
They had typical Scottish weather, said McKay. And it was very windy. You have those big double greens, so balls were kind of flying everywhere. Maybe a couple of pins were too close to one another, so there was a delay. I have respect for playing on the opposite hole that you’re sharing a green with.
What’s Wrong With This Picture
Making the turn after shooting one-over-par 36 on the back nine, 2008 U.S. Women's Open champion In-Bee Park was quite a picture as she stood at the corner of the first tee.
Park, who also won the 2002 U.S. Girls’ Junior, wore a pink golf shirt over a white long-sleeved t-shirt ... and stood under an umbrella as the temperature inched toward 95 degrees.
This material is supposed to make you cooler, said Park, when the breeze is blowing. But it was a little bit breezy today, so it was okay out there. I like to wear this because the sun doesn’t get onto my arms as much, so it gives me a little bit of shade.
Some of the players wet [the sleeves] and then the evaporation cools.
Players today are getting ever more creative with what they slip over their clubs. Charlotte Mayorkas has a unique head cover for her driver. It’s a hockey glove with the words Canada written on the bottom. When asked if she got the glove from a National Hockey League player, Mike Duhamel, Mayorkas’ caddie said, No. They sell them up there.
Fellow competitor McKay was impressed. That’s the most interesting head cover I have seen, said McKay, who sports a green M and Ms cover.
No. 1 Is Loneliest Number
The first hole at Oakmont was the most difficult on the course in the first round. The downhill, 437-yard par 4 played exactly two-thirds of a shot over par at an average of 4.667 for the 156 players. Surprisingly, the second-toughest hole was No. 2, a 325-yard par 4 that only 43.6 percent of the field was able to hit in regulation. It played to a 4.660 stroke average.
Rounding out the top five toughest holes were the par-4 18th (4.588), the par-4 10th (4.571) and the par-4 third (4.538).
The toughest green to hit was not a huge surprise: just 29 percent of the field reached the par-3 eighth hole, which played 243 yards on Thursday, and can stretch to 252 yards, the longest par-3 in U.S. Women’s Open history.
The easiest hole on the course was the 477-yard, par-5 ninth. It was the only hole to play under par at a 4.940 stroke average. The average score for the field was a little over 6-over-par, at 77.1.
Stuart Hall and Dave Shedloski are freelance writers whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites. David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com. USGA copy editor Ron Driscoll also contributed.