PINEHURST, N.C. — The 69th U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2 is 18-year-old Australian amateur Minjee Lee’s first as a competitor, but it’s not her first U.S. Open.
She was at last year’s Open at Sebonack Golf Club on Long Island as a guest of Australian legend and LPGA Hall of Famer Karrie Webb as a recipient of the Karrie Webb Series Scholarship.
The same Karrie Webb who is on the leaderboard through two rounds in a tie for 10th, yet is three shots behind Lee.
Lee, the top-ranked amateur in the world who played with Conway’s Kristy McPherson in the first two rounds, has carded rounds of 69 and 71 and is tied for third at even-par 140, four shots behind leader Michelle Wie.
She is attempting to become just the second amateur to win the Open, joining 1967 champion Catherine Lacoste.
“It’s my first and I’m in contention, so I can’t ask for anything more, really,” Lee said.
Webb provides some junior funding through the Golf Australia association, and winners of the scholarship get to spend a week with her at the U.S. Open.
“We got to spend a week with her at the Open, which is priceless. It’s like the best experience ever, so it was good last year,” Lee said. “I was having a good time watching, but I was like, ‘I really want to be in the field and playing.’ So I’m happy that I’m here and I just want to play my best.”
Lee is the 2012 U.S. Junior Girls champion and has won significant pro and amateur events in Australia, including the Australian Women’s Amateur twice and the Victorian Open on the Australian LPGA.
She has played in two LPGA Tour events this year, tying for 11th in the Handa Australian Open and 24th in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the season’s first major.
“I think I have the ability to contend and I think in the future I’ll be able to win some tournaments,” said Lee, who intends to turn pro later this year.
Eight amateurs have finished second in the U.S. Women’s Open, the last two being Brittany Lang and Morgan Pressel, who tied for second in 2005 after Birdie Kim holed a bunker shot on the 72nd hole to win by two shots.
Bad start, bad finish
McPherson’s week got off to a tough start when her car was sideswiped on the side of the street near the house she was renting in Pinehurst, and it didn’t get much better from there.
McPherson shot a 77 Friday to finish eight shots off the cut line at 17-over 157. “I’m very disappointed. It’s fun playing here,” McPherson said. “Obviously I dug myself into a canyon yesterday. I had too big of a hole.”
Following an 80 Thursday, McPherson figured she had to be under par Friday to have a chance to make the cut and was 1 under through seven holes with a bogey on the second and birdies on the third and seventh holes. She got up and down from the front bunker on the par-4 third, which was shortened to 230 yards, and chipped in from the front of the par-4 seventh green.
“I started out with a little bit of hope,” McPherson said.
But her approach shots on the par-4 eighth and par-5 10th holes rolled over the back of greens, resulting in a bogey and a double bogey, and in between she bogeyed the ninth by putting off the green.
“One thing I said the whole week was play front numbers, don’t even worry about a pin number, don’t even think about putting a club in your hand that even has a chance of going over the green, and I went over a couple greens and it cost me four shots,” McPherson said. “Then after that you’re just kind of checked out. That was enough to put a fork in me.”
McPherson will take some confidence knowing that despite missing her eighth cut in I2 events this year, her ball-striking was good all week. Her lost shots generally came on and around greens and through poor decisions.
“I can really only think of two shots I didn’t hit on the clubface this week,” McPherson said. “… I’ve been trying to find something to hang onto, some kind of hope. It’s just frustrating when you can’t put scores together. The tee ball didn’t cost me a single shot this week.
“When you get to a U.S. Open you’d better be a good lag putter and better be able to get it up and down from tough spots, and I did neither one of them this week.”
McPherson is off this upcoming week and will attend the wedding of her brother, Coastal Carolina men’s golf coach Kevin McPherson, next weekend before returning to action in three weeks in the LPGA Tour’s next major, the Richoh Women’s British Open.
She will miss the $2 million Walmart NW Arkansas Championship this upcoming week, which is one of her favorite tour stops, because of the wedding, which was scheduled with the belief the tour would be off the week following the Open, as it often is.
McPherson plans to spend the two weeks on the Grand Strand. “I think I’m going to need a little boat time and maybe a couple of cold beers on the boat after a week at the U.S. Open,” she said.
Not just nostalgia
Juli Inkster has played in more than half of the U.S. Women’s Opens ever played, and she’s going to see this one out through 72 holes.
Inkster, a few days from her 54th birthday and in her 35th and what she said is her last Open, shot a 75 Friday and is tied for 28th. She has made six birdies through 36 holes, along with eight bogeys and a pair of double bogeys.
“Overall it’s disappointing, but I’m here for the weekend and we’ll see what happens,” Inkster said. “I’m just trying to play golf. It's such a hard golf course. It's 5 ½ hours for us to play. I'm just trying to survive. Just mentally it’s a grind. I think it got away from me a little bit.”
“Tomorrow I hope to get a little later tee time and come out fresh and come out and play.”
Fun while it lasted
The phenomenon that was 11-year-old Lucy Li at the U.S. Women’s Open ended Friday. The California native shot her second consecutive 78 and missed the cut by seven shots, but not before she attracted some of the largest galleries in the first two rounds and impressed with her shot-making, demeanor, maturity and all-around cuteness.
Li made four birdies in two rounds, and all four came within three holes of her making either a double or triple bogey.
“I'm really happy about how I played. I'm really happy with how I bounced back from the big numbers,” Li said. “I learned a lot and I guess it has exceeded my expectations.”
Li has made the most of qualifying for the Open. She spent about the entire week of the men’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst, and will remain for the weekend, as well. While she didn’t get any autographs – “I’m not really big on autographs,” she said – she signed “probably a few hundred.”
As impressive as she was, no one’s quite sure how long Li’s record as the youngest open qualifier will last. “Records are made to be broken,” said Pressel, who is the third-youngest qualifier, making the field as a 12-year-old in 2001. “Some day there will be somebody younger than Lucy and Lucy will be asked about it after she’s been out here for 10 years.”
The weekend off
A total of 71 players made the cut at 9-over 149.
Departing with Li on Friday above the cut line were some of the game’s top names and players, including 2007 Open champion Cristie Kerr (150), two-time winners in 2014 Anna Nordqvist (151) and Jessica Korda (151), two-time major champion Suzann Pettersen (152), Pressel (152), Cheyenne Woods (153), Laura Davies (156) and Natalie Gulbis (156).