Olivia Mehaffey got her first taste of the brutality of a US Women’s Open layout but she handled herself better than plenty in a respectable four-over-par 76 on day one in Alabama.
The Arizona State star received a late call-up on Sunday night to get her third taste of Major Championships action having previously played in two British Opens, and she certainly didn’t look overawed by the occasion.
Successive bogeys on the first and second holes would’ve rattled more experience campaigners but Mehaffey steadied the ship and took advantage of the par-5 sixth to pick up her first birdie of the day.
Again the mistakes came in twos, her birdie on six given straight back at the par-4 seventh before a damaging double bogey at the par-3 eighth threatened to derail her round – but once more Mehaffey showed the bounce-back-ability of a future star.
A birdie at the ninth got her to the turn in 39 and she picked up another at the par-5 eleventh, Olivia clearly not discouraged by the soft fairways of the rain soaked Shoal’s Creek course.
By her lofty standards she would have been frustrated to drop two more on the way in but as far as US Open debuts go, this one was very respectable with Mehaffey currently in a tie for 96th on a congested leaderboard that boasts a three-way tie at the top at five-under-par.
Ariya Jutanugarn, an eight-time LPGA winner, Jeongeun6 Lee, so named because there are five others with her name on the Korean tour, and Sarah Jane Smith, a 33-year-old from Australia who’s never won an LPGA event, has missed the cut in five of her six U.S. Women’s Opens and in five of her last six LPGA events, scorched the soft earth with stunning 67s to hold the first-round lead.
Swedish amateur, Linn Grant, heads the European challenge after a remarkable three-under par start put her in a tie for 4th, one stroke clear of a hoard of players at minus two that includes England’s Mel Reid.
As surprises go, Grant’s performance paled in comparison to the fact that the USGA and the Shoal Creek ground-staff managed to have the field playing the ball where it lay after 4 inches of rain wiped out practice on Tuesday and Wednesday morning.
For Mehaffey and co, Birmingham USA was more like Birmingham UK as maintenance staff, volunteer superintendents and the USGA worked through the night to ensure the course was playable. While there were some mud balls for those teeing off at 6.40am, the talk in the locker room was that of amazement at how well turned out the track proved to be. 33-year-old Australian, Smith, led the praise:
“The course is great,” Smith said. “I mean, considering the rain that we’ve had, I think I only had one ball that was kind of a little muddy. Otherwise I didn’t need to pick it up. It was incredible. It was way dryer than I thought. The greens are pure, so the course is really nice.”
With further drying out expected, conditions may become that bit trickier but if Mehaffey can get her ball round in par today, she has every chance of making the weekend cut on the toughest stage of all. Play well Olivia!