PINEHURST, N.C. — Kristy McPherson began the first round of the 69th U.S. Women’s Open feeling pretty good about a new putter and her lag putting in practice rounds and on the practice greens at Pinehurst No. 2.
That confidence began to dissipate with a birdie putt that ran 6 feet past the cup on her first hole, leading to a three-putt, and she never regained it.
The Conway native attempted 35 putts officially, and a few more from the fringe of greens, and shot a 10-over 80 Thursday, leaving her with slim hopes of making Friday’s cut after 36 holes.
“On the first hole I blew a putt by about 6 feet and then I got a little nervous about the speed and I left everything short the rest of the day,” McPherson said. “It was all speed on putting. Ray Charles could have putted better than that. I three-putted I don’t even know how many times – four, five?
“Once you lose confidence out here in your short game you’re in bad shape.”
McPherson was pleased with her ball-striking. She hit 11 of 14 fairways and believes she was truly out of position just once off the tee. She said she feels she positioned herself poorly around greens just twice. The field average for putts was 31.68.
“My short game was just horrendous,” said McPherson, who started on the 10th hole and bogeyed 10, 11, 13, 14, 16, 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7, with a birdie on the 164-yard 15th hole with a 7-iron to 18 feet.
“That’s the only putt I saw go in the hole. It was a tough day,” McPherson said. “You’ve got to get those up and down when you hit it where you’re supposed to and you can’t three-putt. You can’t keep giving them back.
“Hopefully I’ll keep putting myself in position and hopefully figure out the speed on the greens tomorrow and get the putts to the hole.”
I’ll take that
Michelle Wie identified one benefit of the women following the men in consecutive U.S. Opens at Pinehurst No. 2.
She obtained the yardage books from last week of Rickie Fowler, Keegan Bradley and both of their caddies to prepare for the Women’s Open, and they helped her shoot a 2-under 68 to be a shot off Stacy Lewis’ lead.
“I laid all the yardage books down and I kind of compared notes,” she said. “I think knowledge is definitely key around here, just knowing where to miss it, where not to miss it. It's such a unique experience, just to kind of have the information, that information, that's never really happened before.
“They were big helps. They put some really good notes in for me. I did a lot of homework. I think it's the most homework I've ever done on a golf course. … I definitely learned a lot from looking at those yardage books and just seeing what they do.”
Other players also acquired yardage books from players or caddies, including Paula Creamer, who received a yardage book from Matt Kuchar’s caddie, Lance Bennett, who has previously caddied for Creamer.
World No. 3 Lydia Ko of New Zealand, just 17, and a number of other players went one step further by hiring caddies who caddied in the tournament last week.
Most were Pinehurst regulars, though Ko managed to get the services of Jim Furyk’s caddie, Mike “Fluff” Cowan, who said Ko’s agent from IMG contacted him to offer him the job for the week.
Cowan was an active participant in Ko’s round of 76 that has her tied for 77th, helping her line up all of her putts. Putting wasn’t her issue, however. She needed just 27 putts, but missed 12 of 18 greens.
USGA goes to school
Players weren’t the only ones using data from the men’s open this week. The USGA used tons of data collected from assigned observers and men’s caddies who were paid a stipend to provide information to assist the USGA in setting up the course for the women.
Things including clubs used off tee boxes and into greens, distances of approach shots and how balls reacted once they hit greens were studied.
So the women’s setup for the first and subsequent rounds has been well calculated.
“We've actually collected a lot of data this past week from the men,” USGA executive director Mike Davis said. “So we know the caddies have been tremendously helpful for us. We know, not for all the players, but the vast majority of the players, what they hit off tees, what they hit into greens. So it will be helpful. And we obviously know their landing zones, as well.”
Young and impressionable
Considering Lucy Li started her first U.S. Women’s Open with a double bogey, the fact that the 11-year-old from California shot an 8-over 78 had to be considered a success. Her score was as good as or better than 54 players against par in the field.
Dressed in an American flag top and tutu-like skirt, she doubled the par-5 10th hole when she had a bunker shot just trickle off the green and roll down into a collection area, and she also triple bogeyed the short par-4 fourth hole and made another double on 16. So she played the other 15 holes just 1 over with a pair of birdies.
“It was a lot of fun. It was really tough,” Li said. “I made some good comebacks. I’m definitely happy with the way I played. I might have made a double and a triple but I came back from that with pars and birdies, so I’m happy about that. I just need to get rid of the big numbers.”
She played in the morning and had one of the largest galleries on the course, which was good for her because she said she likes playing in front of big crowds. Her plan for the Thursday afternoon? “Eat some more ice cream,” she said with a melting ice cream in her left hand.
Tiger’s niece on prowl
Though Tiger Woods couldn’t make the U.S. Open last week as he continues to recover from back surgery on March 31, his niece, Cheyenne Woods, his half-brother Earl Woods Jr’s daughter, is in this week’s U.S. Women’s Open field.
Woods, 23, shot an 8-over 78 Thursday with two birdies, two double bogeys and six bogeys.
She was a two-time All-American at Wake Forest before turning pro in 2012 and shot a 1-under 141 to tie for second at her sectional qualifier. In February, she won the Volvik RACV Australian Masters on the Ladies European Tour for her first significant pro victory, reinforcing her belief in the work she has been putting into her game.
“That was a great way to get my year started,” Woods said. “That win gave me confidence in my game and my abilities.”
She’s currently competing on the Symetra Tour, the feeder tour of the LPGA, and is coming off a season-best tie for fifth with a 3-under 213 in her 10th tournament of the year to move up to 37th on the money list with $9,950 earned.
She missed the cut two years ago at Blackwolf Run in her only previous Women’s Open, and has also qualified for this year’s Ricoh Women’s British Open.
Regardless of her play, she’s used to attention at events because of her name and lineage, and signed several autographs after her round alongside Natalie Gulbis. “I think there’s just added attention, a lot of media attention or comparisons here and there,” she said. “I’ve grown up with the name so this is kind of what I’ve always had, so it’s nothing new. I always go out and do my own thing, regardless.”
She credits Tiger and her grandfather, Earl, with introducing her to the game at the age of 6. She said her uncle is available for advice when she needs it. “I know he’s watching along with my whole family on TV,” Woods said.
Ball-striking is Woods’ strength. “I’m always pretty much in play and on the green,” she said. “For me it always comes down to putting, along with everybody else.”