U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
Saturday Surprises Show Poise, Position Themselves for Victory
June 1, 2019 | Charleston, S.C.
By Ron Sirak
Bob Jones once said, “There is golf and there is tournament golf.” He could have added: “And then there’s major championship golf.”
Few knew as much about winning majors as Jones, a nine-time USGA champion. But on Sunday, a half-dozen 20-somethings with diverse records as professionals will be jonesing for their first major title, at the U.S. Women’s Open.
Three of them – Minjee Lee, Sei Young Kim and Jessica Korda – head into the final round at the Country Club of Charleston with gaudy résumés, but they also lug around that laborious label of being among the best in the game without a major title. The monkey looms large on their backs.
The other three – Gaby Lopez, Nanna Koerstz Madsen and Ally McDonald – have one LPGA win among them, that by Lopez last year, but on Saturday no one was better than them as they climbed into contention. They arrive on Sunday well under the radar, and sometimes in a major championship that’s not a bad place to be.
All six are serious lurkers with a chance to capture the title that would mean the most to them.
Lopez started the third round at even par but torched this cunning Seth Raynor design for a 67 to stand at 4-under-par 209 after 54 holes, tied with Korda, who shot 72. They are three strokes behind co-leaders Celine Boutier and Yu Liu, who posted a 66, the low score of the day. Madsen had a 66 of her own that left her at 210 along with Lee, who shot 70. McDonald’s 67 put her at 211, tied with Kim, who had a 72.
At No. 2 in the Rolex Rankings, Lee is the highest-ranked player without a major. With eight victories, Kim has the most LPGA trophies without a major. And Korda, Rolex No. 13, looks to join her father Petr, who won the 1998 Australian Open tennis tournament, as a major champion.
But, beside Liu, it was Lopez, Madsen and McDonald who stole the show on Saturday. Lopez made six birdies and two bogeys in her 67 while Madsen had six birdies, two bogeys and an eagle in her 66 and McDonald was flawless, with four birdies and no bogeys, on her way to a 67.
All three displayed a sharp learning curve, processing information gained in the first three rounds and using that to develop a game plan for Sunday’s finale.
“You just got to be smart and play to the middle of the hole and remain calm,” Lopez said. “There is no calmness enough for this golf course, for the U.S. Open and being able to enjoy that.”
As for Sunday, she sees no reason to fix what’s not broken.
“Try to do the same thing that I did today,” she said. “Give myself as many birdie chances as I can, play smart. I've just got to be aggressive with my wedge play and probably a little bit more safe on the par 3s, I guess. It's key to have a good play on the par 3s.”
Madsen had a chance to win the LPGA event in Los Angeles in April but closed with a 76 after opening with a 69 and a pair of 67s. In a drill designed to make her not get down on herself during a round, Madsen’s mental coach, Jacobsen Henson, has her bite a lemon when she is angry or disappointed.
She played so well Saturday the lemon never left the bag.
“Not today, no,” she said with a smile.
“It's exciting,” she said about her position after 54 holes. “I like being in this position. I feel like my game is pretty solid, and I'm confident in my game. So, yeah, I'm just excited for tomorrow, and I like going and playing tomorrow.”
As for the Los Angeles meltdown, Madsen went through a lot of lemons in that 76.
“I learned a lot of stuff that round,” she said. “First of all, just being in that position. Every time you try, you learn to be there. I learned a lot. Just stay calm and enjoy it a little bit more out there and be aware that you probably are not going to think it's funny all day long, because you're going to be nervous and stuff, and that's OK.”
McDonald tied for sixth at the ANA Inspiration, the first major of the year, after opening 68-72. She had four birdies on Saturday – including on the treacherous par-3 11th hole – and no bogeys in one of the few immaculate rounds of the day.
“These last couple days, I just kind of tried to hang on,” she said about a pair of 72s. “Today, I played really consistent. I hit the ball really well and was able to roll in a few birdies. Steady golf is the key out here. This is my fifth U.S. Open, and I've yet to make a cut. I've just learned that it doesn't take heroics to play well. It's just playing smart, playing steady.”
On Saturday, a hearty handful of new names snuck up on a bunch of stars and claimed a lot of spots on the leader board. On Sunday, we find out if one of them can win the U.S. Women’s Open.
Ron Sirak is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA digital channels.