Megha Ganne stays even on Friday to stay in contention

Yuka Saso shot 67 to take a one-stroke lead over Jeongeun Lee6 at the halfway stage of the US Women's Open. Megha Ganne shot an even 71 and is T3 at 4-under

Megha Ganne - Getty Images - US Women's Open

05 June 2021: Another day at the US Women’s Open, another solid round from the 17-year-old school girl from New Jersey. Megha Ganne is soaking in all the spotlight with the maturity of a veteran. She is just an amateur high school junior whose calculus home work is on hold as she blazes a new trail at the Olympic Club. Yuka Saso earned the 36-hole lead with a brilliant 67, moving to six-under through two rounds. Jeongeun Lee6 also shot a 67 to move just one back from the leader.

Ganne started off the second nine. With a lone birdie on the par-5 16th hole, she was due two strokes to the course as she went past the turn. But the young woman showed plenty of nerve to steal the two back on her way home to secure an even card to stay at 4-under par.

“I thought the course played pretty similar. It was a little bit chillier today and there was some fog in the air in the morning, so it was kind of just adding some yards to all the numbers. So it played a little bit longer, but other than that, pretty similar,” said Ganne.

“Yeah, I think what I learned at the ANWA and a couple other events is obviously when you have your “A” game it’s really easy to make putts and hit good shots, but it’s when you don’t have that and you’re still able to salvage and not compound mistakes, that’s what separates the pros from the amateurs I think a lot of the time.

“That’s kind of what I’ve been trying to do. A little bit on the front nine I saw that today. I wasn’t really in the spots I wanted to be, so I just remember that I know how to make up-and-downs, so kept that in mind.”

Saso made six bidies in the 50 degree chill, incredibly making just six fairways off the tee. But she worked her out of the penal rough at the Olympic with sanguid calm to put herself in the dialogue for one of the most coveted prizes in women’s golf.

“If I go in the rough, my mindset is just to go for the fairway,” said Saso. “It’s really long and like sticky, so yeah, it’s really hard to get on from it. But yeah, I’m glad that I’m a little bit good out of it.”

One of the secrets to Saso’s success so far has been a fluid run on the greens. The Philippine took just 53 putts for her 36 holes, the second best this week. Saso is looking to follow in the footsteps of LPGA non-members A Lim Kim (2020 U.S. Women’s Open), Sophia Popov (2020 AIG Women’s Open) and Hinako Shibuno (2019 AIG Women’s Open), if she can go on and claim victory this week.

Jeongeun Lee6 already has a fair idea of the grind, having won the US Women’s Open in 2019. She made a hat-trick of birdies between 15 & 17 to put herself firmly in the conversation.

But much of the chatter at the Olympic focuses on Megha Ganne. The teenager is impressing everyone not only with her golf but also with her composure on and off the course. She is relishing the spotlight and drawing energy from it.

“I wish every event I had a gallery watching me because it just makes me play better, I think,” said Ganne. “And I love being in the spotlight, so it’s been really fun.”

Seasoned champions trail Ganne. Inbee Park. Lexi Thompson and Ariya Jutanugarn are all at 2-under, just where they might like to be with two more rounds still to be played on a famously challenging course.

“There aren’t that many holes that I can actually make a birdie on this golf course,” said Park, who won the U.S. Women’s Open in 2008 and 2013. “I really tried to take advantage of the par-5s when I hit the short irons, which I did.”

Defending champion A Lim Kim made an early departure at 7-over, one below the cut line. 66 players entered the weekend. Hinako Shibuno, Sophia Popov and Nelly Korda also missed the cut. Michelle Wie West and Cristie Kerr were among those that missed out.

The weather has been unusually cold for this time of the year. But Megan Khang, tied in third with Megha, is relishing the stage.

“I grew up in the northeast and this is the kind of weather we kind of had,” said Khang. “Lydia (Ko) joked with me this morning. She was like, ‘Oh, you know it’s cold when Megan wears pants.’ I told her, I was like, ‘Oh, I got to the golf course and I was like, I definitely could have worn shorts.’”

“Each day is more exciting, more nerve-racking. I like to look at it as embracing it because you can’t really shy away from it. You know it’s going to happen. It’s inevitable,” said Khang. “I love these kind of feelings and I definitely for sure know the course is going to give us its best and we’re going to have to give our best.”

Ganne is drawing quite the gallery at the Olympic Club. On Friday, they were three rows deep as the teenager studied the lines on the 7th green, doing the calculations on a sliding ten footer for birdie. She found the centre of the cup and worked her way back to even par for the round. The accompanying roar echoed the excitement of watching a promising star turning the lights on for everyone to see the spark in her.

“I love it so much. I wish every event I had a gallery watching me because it just makes me play better, I think,” said Megha, gushing with joy. “And I love being in the spotlight, so it’s been really fun.”

“We’ve really worked hard on getting the most out of her game when she doesn’t have her best stuff,” said, Ganne’s coach Katie Rudolph.

Sarah Burnham turned the tide in her favour with a brilliant performance in the second round. The Michigan State freshman started the day at 5-over and the feeling the sharp edge of the knife on her clubs. But she responded with a thrilling 66, the low round so far, climbing back to even par and a tie for 12th at the halfway stage of the tournament.

“I hit a lot more greens (today). I struggled yesterday to start out with. I didn’t hit many fairways, so it was tough to hit the greens. If you’re even in the first cut, you can almost have such a bad lie that you are not getting to the green. So I just really focused in on hitting fairways, and then when I was there to that point, hitting the green,” said Burnham, whose 66 ties her career-low 18-hole score. “That’s kind of just what I did, was just hit the greens and hopefully it’ll get close or maybe a putt will drop.”

An ace on the par-3 13th hole was another highlight in the cold climes of the West Coast. Jennifer Kupcho produced a perfect swing on the hole for her first ace in an LPGA competition.