SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – The first round of the 2013 U.S. Women’s Open is barely halfway complete, but Inbee Park has sprinted out to a familiar spot on the leader board: at the top.
Park, of Korea, who has five wins this year including two majors, shot 5-under 67 at Sebonack Golf Club. Among the players who teed off in the morning, Park leads Caroline Hedwall by a stroke and six players, including Natalie Gulbis and Jennifer Rosales, by three strokes.
Every player benefited from the conditions, which were great for scoring in the morning. There was very little wind, and the USGA Competition Committee moved up teeing grounds on many holes, resulting in an overall course length of 6,548 yards, nearly 300 yards shorter than what players had encountered in practice rounds.
The USGA was a little generous on us today, said Park, the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open champion and the top-ranked player in the world. 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.
The surprise setup made Park feel as if she were an actor who was forced to ad-lib on opening night after carefully studying her lines in preparation.
I never had practiced from those tees, so I was a little bit shocked when I went to the tees, said Park, who made six birdies and a bogey. I didn't know what line I had to hit to. It was just a learning experience today.
One adjustment Park didn’t have to make was on the greens. She had 25 putts, the fewest of any player in the morning draw. Her putting statistics could have been even better; Park missed birdie putts of 8 feet or less on the ninth, 15th and 18th holes.
Hedwall also took advantage of the shorter setup, making eight birdies.
I could hit a lot of wedges into the greens, which helped a lot, said Hedwall, of Sweden, who played in the 2011 Solheim Cup and tied for third at the 2013 Kraft Nabisco Championship. I’ve always been a strong player from tee to green, and I’ve worked a lot on my putting. That is finally starting to pay off. If I have a good day with my putter, I’m going to shoot low.
The wind began to blow as the players in the afternoon draw began play. The most memorable shot of the day took place at 2:09 p.m. That’s when Juli Inkster started her record-breaking 34th U.S. Women’s Open. The two-time U.S. Women’s Open champion hit it in the fairway on the first hole and made par.
By the time Inkster teed off, Park already had made significant progress on a path leading toward, not only her second U.S. Open, but also her third major of the year. She already has won the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the Wegman’s LPGA Championship.
At Sebonack, Park is ready for the challenges that lie ahead, no matter how the course is set up.
I’m not sure about tomorrow, said Park, but I think on the weekend they’ll definitely go difficult. They can do so much on this golf course. You could play a totally different golf course tomorrow and they can do so much with the tee boxes and pin placements.
Hunki Yun is the USGA’s digital publisher and web content manager. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.