July 14, 2017: The play matched the weather in the early going of Thursday’s first round of the U.S. Women’s Open: hot and breathtaking. As the thermometer climbed past 90 and the humidity made it feel more like 100, Shanshan Feng and Amy Yang toasted Trump National. Aditi Ashok was lying in T80, 8 strokes off the pace.
Aditi Ashok had a rocky start to her U.S. Open Championship. The young Indian made the turn in 37 strokes, with 8 pars and a lone bogie of the front 9. But the bogies at 10th and 14th holes set her back to 3 over. Aditi, however, fought back with a fine birdie at the 17th before bad weather brought an abrupt end to pay on the first day.
Feng, who won the 2012 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, played the back nine first and went out in 31 then wilted a bit in the heat, finishing the morning wave with a six-under-par, 66. Yang, who has 16 top-10 finishes in majors without ever winning, is one stroke back at 67.
A pair of two-time major winners, Lydia Ko and So Yeon Ryu, who won the first major of the year at the ANA Inspiration, are at 68. Minjee Lee, the Australian who at 21 has already won three LPGA events, is three back at 69. Also at 69 is 17-year-old amateur Hye-Jin Choi, who won a qualifier in South Korea.
A slew of other major champs are also in the early mix: Cristie Kerr, who won this tournament 10 years ago and is in her 20th year on tour, is at 69. In Gee Chun and Brooke Henderson are at 70.
“I started the round really, really good with three birdies in my first four holes,” Feng said. “My ball-striking has been really good but I was struggling with my putting. I made an adjustment on Tuesday and felt comfortable today. I’m really happy with my 66.”
Danielle Kang, winner of the previous major, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, was among those in the afternoon wave, along with Michelle Wie, Suzann Pettersen and Brittany Lincicome.
Henderson had a good explanation why most scores climbed as the day wore on. “It was a little bit softer in the morning,” she said. “The wind kicked in near the end of my back nine. All those factors kind of make the scores go a little bit higher. With it being so hot today, I think the rest of the afternoon groups might have that factor to deal with, as well.”
The Old Course at Trump National tips out at 6,732 yards, although it likely will never play at that length as tee markers are moved around. The fairways have been cut generously wide and the greens are massive, making lag putting one of the keys this week. You don’t want to leave yourself too many 5-footers for par.
And, as is the case every year, the players are looking over their shoulders in an attempt to anticipate what surprises the USGA will throw at them. One of the points of the national championship is to test the complete golfer – the mental as well as the physical – and the USGA likes to make players and caddies – think on their feet.
Many of the caddies are casting a wary eye to No. 13, a 402-yard par 4. The loopers say there is a spot off to the right of the pond in front of the tee where a tee box can be placed, turning it into a drivable par-4. Saturday seems like a good day for officials to pull that trick out of their course set-up bag.
Literally, the heat is on at the U.S. Women’s Open and what is traditionally the game’s most grueling test is under way. And early indications are that a slew of great players have brought their A game to New Jersey.