U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
Japan’s Higa Posts Lowest Debut Round in Women’s Open History May 30, 2019 | CHARLESTON, S.C. By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Playing in her first U.S. Women's Open, Mamiko Higa rewrote the record books with a 65 at the Country Club of Charleston. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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What Happened

Mamiko Higa of Japan shot a 6-under-par 65 on Thursday, the lowest debut score by any player in championship history, to take a one-stroke lead after the first round of the 74th U.S. Women’s Open at the Country Club of Charleston.

Higa, 25, leads by one over Esther Henseleit, 20, of Germany, who shot 5-under 66 and was also making her first start in the Women’s Open, and amateur Gina Kim, 19, a rising sophomore at Duke University who helped the Blue Devils win the NCAA team title two weeks ago and finished her round eagle-birdie on Thursday evening. Two strokes back and alone in fourth at 4-under 67 is Celine Boutier, 25, of France, who missed the cut in her only two previous Women’s Open starts, in 2014 and 2015, while she was playing at Duke.

There have only been three lower first-round scores in U.S. Women’s Open history than Higa’s. Helen Alfredsson shot 63 in 1994, and Mirim Lee (2016) and Kelli Kuehne (1999) opened with 64s. Juli Inkster in 1999 has the only other opening round of 65.

“My putting speed matched with my putting style; that was really the key,” said Higa, who hit 15 greens and jump-started her round with birdies on holes 3-5. “I haven’t been playing good the last two weeks, so I didn’t expect much.”

Higa, who is engaged to professional sumo wrestler Ikioi Shota, is a two-time Japan Women’s Amateur champion who has won five times on the LPGA of Japan Tour since turning professional in 2012. Her best previous finish in a major is a tie for fourth at last year’s British Women’s Open.

Henseleit got into the championship last week as an alternate after losing a playoff at a sectional qualifier in England. She has had eight top-10 finishes in her past 10 starts on the Ladies European Tour and the Australian Ladies Tour.

Kim, who shot 72-79 to miss the cut in her Women’s Open debut last year, holed out a 140-yard 8-iron shot for eagle on the par-4 eighth, her 17th hole, then barely missed her 18-foot putt for eagle on the par-5 ninth. Her 66 matches the low round by an amateur in U.S. Women’s Open history, with Brittany Lincicome the last amateur to post that score.

Higa played the Seth Raynor-designed layout in the fourth group off No. 1 in the morning wave, when the course played on average 2.5 strokes easier than in the afternoon (72.7 strokes to 75.2). Conditions became more difficult mostly due to winds that gusted to 25 miles an hour on the course along Wappoo Creek on James Island, about 5 miles from downtown Charleston.

Sei Young Kim of the Republic of Korea and Azahara Munoz of Spain were tied for fifth at 3-under 68. For Munoz, it was just her second round in the 60s in 43 career Women’s Open rounds. Defending champion Ariya Jutanugarn and world No. 1 Jin-Young Ko both opened with rounds of 1-over 72.

Notable

  • Andrea Lee, 20, who is No. 4 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, opened with a 2-under 69, good for a tie for seventh and the second-low score by an amateur on Thursday. She is a junior at Stanford University, where she is completing her spring semester. As she prepared for the championship in Charleston, she was also grinding to complete an essay for her ethics in bioengineering class. “It was due last night, but my teacher got back to me at like 9 p.m. saying, ‘I’ll give you a one-day extension,’ said Lee. “I was like, great, I pretty much just finished it. I’ve been in the lobby [working on it] every single night since I got here. It’s tough to balance school and golf sometimes, but I’ve kind of gotten used to it at Stanford.”

  • The last time a women’s major was held in South Carolina, the 1977 LPGA Championship, Chako Higuchi of Japan won. It’s the only professional major championship won by a player from Japan, either male or female.

  • Emma Talley, who won the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur at the Country Club of Charleston, opened with a 1-under 70 in her bid to become the second player to win the U.S. Women's Amateur and U.S. Women's Open on the same course. Juli Inkster won the 1980 Women’s Amateur and the 2002 Women’s Open at Prairie Dunes Country Club.

  • The Redan Hole, the par-3 11th, played at 188 yards on Thursday, and it played to historic difficulty with a stroke average of 3.47. The most difficult par 3 in a Women’s Open over the last 25 years was No. 13 at Blackwolf Run in 2012, which played to a 3.47 stroke average for the week.

  • 23 years ago, on May 30, 1996, Annika Sorenstam began her successful U.S. Women's Open defense at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club with an opening-round 70; Sorenstam would become the sixth woman to win the championship in back-to-back years.

Quotable

“It was windy on Monday, and then it really calmed down Tuesday, Wednesday during the practice rounds. When I got on the range today, it was a shock it was this windy.” – Nelly Korda, who shot 2-under 69, on the changing conditions at the Country Club of Charleston

“Ever since I was younger, I’ve been playing international events, but it’s really cool to have everyone here at one event. It’s such a diverse field and really cool to be able to compete against so many great players from all around the world.” – Alexa Pano, 14, who opened with a round of 4-over 75 in her first U.S. Women’s Open

“It’s easy when you’re standing outside the ropes giving kids numbers and asking them to hit certain shots. But I don’t control my distances like I used to, and it’s tough to do that in an Open. I did enjoy the walk today. That was my goal. And I enjoyed every shot.” – Heather Young, 44, an assistant women’s golf coach at Clemson who was playing in her first U.S. Women’s Open since 2012 and shot 7-over 78

The Social Scene

Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.

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