Amy Olson leads the US Women’s Open

Amy Olson (67) got off to a flying start in the 75th US Women's Open at the Champions Golf Club in Houston. Hinako Shibuno, Moriya Jutanugarn and A Lim Kim shot 68

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Amy Olson - Jeff Haynes - USGA

For the second time in 2020, North Dakota’s Amy Olson has gotten off to a hot start in a major championship. The 28-year-old from Fargo shot a 4-under 67 in Thursday’s first round of the U.S. Women’s Open, playing the Cypress Creek Course at Champions Golf Club in Houston. She holds a one-stroke lead over Hinako ShibunoMoriya Jutanugarn and A Lim Kim after 18 holes.

Olson highlighted her day with an ace at No. 3, while three birdies and one bogey rounded out her career-low round at the U.S. Women’s Open. Considering Cypress Creek played a full stroke harder (74.59 to 73.46) than the Jackrabbit Course, which is co-hosting the first two rounds due to daylight concerns, Olson’s first-round success is especially hard-earned.

“I hit the ball really well off the tee. I gave myself some good chances for birdie, but I really made some putts that I definitely wasn’t necessarily thinking birdie on, and that helped,” said Olson, the USGA’s 2009 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion. “Obviously, the hole-in-one was kind of the highlight of the round. I was pretty excited to be able to do that at the U.S. Open.”

Olson has twice been oh-so-close to major success. In August, Olson shot another 67 to open the AIG Women’s Open but struggled to a second-round 81 and dropped well off the pace. She also came up one hole short at the 2018 Evian Championship, making a heart-breaking double-bogey on the 72nd hole to hand the title to Angela Stanford. Olson knows only too well that the championship is far from over, saying, “It’s not easy to win out here. You have to put four really good days together.”

Hinako Shibuno - Jeff Haynes - USGA
Hinako Shibuno – Jeff Haynes – USGA

Shibuno, who captured the hearts of the golf world after winning the 2019 AIG Women’s Open, carded four birdies and one bogey in the first round of her U.S. Women’s Open debut. The Smiling Cinderella, an absolute media darling in her native Japan, played the Cypress Creek Course on Thursday and looks forward to the challenge of playing a completely different course in the second round.

“This is my first time playing two different courses, so that’s why I did a lot of practicing rounds beforehand. That’s why I came in early to fly in,” said Shibuno. “By doing so, by doing more practicing, I learned more, so I would like to use what I learned in the practicing rounds and in the tournament.”

Jutanugarn and Kim both opened their major weeks on the Jackrabbit Course. Jutanugarn returned a clean scorecard with three birdies, while Kim endured an up-and-down round of five birdies and two bogeys.

Seven players are tied for fifth at -2, including 2020 AIG Women’s Open champion Sophia Popov and Gerina Piller, who had the best first-round showing of the championship’s seven Texans. 2019 U.S. Women’s Open champion Jeongeun Lee6 opened her title defense with a 2-over 73 on the Cypress Creek Course.

SECOND-ROUND TEE TIMES MOVED TO 8 A.M. DUE TO WEATHER FORECAST

The USGA announced that tee times for Friday’s second round will be moved to 8 a.m. CST from their original starting time of 9:20 a.m. due to anticipated inclement weather. Play in the second round will still begin on the first and 10th tees at the Cypress Creek Course and the Jackrabbit Course.

SOPHIA POPOV REDISCOVERS CHAMPIONSHIP MINDSET

In a game of inches, where one shot a round – one lip-out or one failed up and down – can be the difference between multiple victories and an also-ran career, what is the mindset that separates major champions from those on the other side?

For the answer, we go to Sophia Popov, who has been on both extremes of that ledger this year.

Popov had no LPGA Tour status when she got into the Marathon LPGA Classic as a Symetra Tour Member. She finished in the top-10 that week in Ohio, which got her into the AIG Women’s Open. And the rest is golf history. That week at Royal Troon remains one of the all-time best moments in sports and certainly the best story in golf in a COVID-stricken year like 2020.

Immediately following her victory in Scotland, and for weeks thereafter, Popov talked about the razor-thin margin between those players grinding to reach the next level and those who have a magical moment that forever changes their lives.

But now, in the waning days of a year everyone wants to see come to an end, Popov is more reflective. After a 2-under-par opening round at the 75th U.S. Women’s Open – a Thursday that left her just two shots off Amy Olson’s first-day lead – the 28-year-old from Germany understands that it isn’t always the shots that make the champion. It is the mindset the champion brings to the shots that make the difference.

More than the date was different for the diamond anniversary U.S. Women’s Open. Because of COVID-19, there were no spectators. Because it is December, there is much less daylight, requiring the use of two courses for the first time in the history of the event.

And because it’s nearly winter, the Cypress Creek Couse – which will be used both weekend days – and the Jackrabbit Course were shimmering ribbons of emerald green hugged by the brilliant brown of dormant rough. Beauty, it seems, knows no season but rather graces all of them in different ways.

PAIR OF FIRST-ROUND ACES
The first round of the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open saw two aces, both coming on the Cypress Creek Course. Amy Olson had a hole-in-one on the 16th hole, from 139 yards with an 8-iron, while KLPGA Tour player Yu Jin Sung aced the fourth hole, from 169 yards with a 5-iron. This is the first time since 2016 at CordeValle that the U.S. Women’s Open has seen at least two aces in a single year.

“The pin was tucked. It was just more on the right side of the green with the wind kind of coming from the right,” said Olson, who added that it was her fifth ace overall and second in competition. “I hit a fade to try to hold the wind, and it landed two paces short of the flag, had some good spin on it and just trickled in. We saw the whole thing, which was fun.”

For those aces, CME Group will donate $20,000 apiece to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which is leading the way the world understands, treats and defeats childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. The 2020 season has now seen 13 aces for a total of $260,000 donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

After the first round, Olson holds the solo lead at -4, while Sung is tied for 108th at +5.