Round 1: Five Things to Watch May 30, 2018 | Shoal Creek, Ala. By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Brooke Henderson begins her quest for a U.S. Women's Open title at 1:48 p.m. CDT. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

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Anticipation for the first U.S. Women’s Open in Alabama has been building for some time. Even though heavy rains have saturated Shoal Creek and forced the cancellation of a day and a half of practice rounds, enthusiasm among players and the community is high as the championship begins. Competitors, some of whom are getting their first real look at the golf course during the first round, are going to have to manage their games and emotions. Here are five things to watch for on Thursday:

Park Comes in Off a Win: Ten days ago, Inbee Park got the monkey off her back. Park has two U.S. Women’s Open victories among her seven major championships, took home the first Olympic gold medal in women’s golf in more than 100 years in 2016, and earlier that same year, became the youngest player to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame at 27 years old.

But until this month, Park had never won on her home turf, the LPGA of Korea Tour. Granted, Park competes full-time on the LPGA Tour, but she had played in 20 KLPGA events through the years without garnering a victory before her home fans.

“Everybody was asking so many questions about why are you not winning in Korea,” said Park, a native of Seoul, on Tuesday. “They don’t need to ask me the same question again. That’s really the part that I’m happiest about.”

Park played seven rounds in five days and won the final of the Doosan Match Play Championship, 1 up, over Ah Lim Kim on May 20.

“I was proud of myself that I have done it in match play,” said Park, who showed match-play prowess much earlier in her career when she made three U.S. Girls’ Junior finals in four years, winning in 2002. “My family was there and I was able to share it with a lot of people. It was a big relief.”

Park, who was sidelined by a back injury in late 2017, narrowly missed earning her eighth major title in April when Pernilla Lindberg outlasted her in an eight-hole playoff at the ANA Inspiration. Perhaps No. 8 will come this week.

Winning Formula: When Karrie Webb was asked whether defending champion Sung Hyun Park has an advantage in the wet conditions at Shoal Creek, Webb was unwilling to give Park a clear edge. Webb herself is the last player to successfully defend her title (2000-01).

“I think length is always an advantage when you are playing a soft, wet golf course, but it all depends how the course is set up,” said Webb, 43, who received a special exemption from the USGA and is competing her 23rd consecutive Women’s Open. “There are multiple tee boxes that can be used. It could set up for anyone who’s hitting lots of fairways and greens. With these green complexes, coming in from the fairway is probably going to be just as advantageous as hitting it long.”

Live Streaming: Fans will have multiple opportunities to watch first-round action: Bonus coverage is streaming on usga.org from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. EDT; FS1 is on the air with coverage from 3-8 p.m. EDT, and the featured group is a trio of players who have winning aspirations. Brooke Henderson, of Canada; Brittany Lincicome, of St. Petersburg, Fla.; and 2017 runner-up Hye-Jim Choi of the Republic of Korea, will appear on the usga.org live stream from 3 p.m. EDT through the conclusion of their round.

Henderson, 20, of Smith Falls, Ontario, was the runner-up in the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur and has earned six LPGA Tour victories, including the 2016 KPMG Women’s PGA. Lincicome, 32, has captured two ANA Inspiration titles among her eight LPGA Tour victories. Choi, 18, who was seeking to become just the second amateur winner of the U.S. Women’s Open last July at Trump National, recorded the lowest total for an amateur (9-under 279) in finishing two strokes behind Sung Hyun Park. She turned professional on her 18th birthday, Aug. 23, and earned her first win as a pro at the Hyosung Championship on the LPGA of Korea Tour in December.

Iron Bowl Matchup: Although she grew up in Princeton, Ky., Emma Talley played college golf at the University of Alabama and is now a “Tour Hopeful” member at Shoal Creek. Her grouping on Thursday and Friday sets up a battle of in-state rivals as she is paired with fellow Crimson Tide player Kristen Gillman and Auburn University graduate Cydney Clanton. All three have competed for the USA in both the Curtis Cup and the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship.

“My feet are at home in Kentucky but I’m Roll Tide all the way, everything about me is a ’Bama girl,” said Talley, 24, who won the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur. “Kristen won the [2014] U.S. Am and basically took my spot at Alabama when I graduated. That will be really fun. Obviously, we're going to try to beat up on Cydney a little bit.”

Marquee Groups: Among the groups who will be playing Round 1 during the FS1 television window on Thursday are the 1:37 p.m. CDT trio of two-time Women’s Open champion Inbee Park, who starts play on No. 1 with 2015 champion In Gee Chun and Moriya Jutanugarn of Thailand.

Another trio that will be competing during the TV window is the traditional grouping of defending champion Sung Hyun Park with 2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Sophia Schubert and Ricoh Women’s British Open champion In-Kyung Kim, who will start on No. 1 at 1:15 p.m. Also, two-time major champion Lydia Ko of New Zealand, Amy Yang (who has seven top-10 finishes in this championship including two seconds) and up-and-coming Nelly Korda, 19, will start from No. 1 at 1:04 p.m.                                                                      
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.

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