07 June 2021: It was a good week to be a teenager. It was a great week to be an amateur. Even if you were a veteran, yet only 26, it was still a good week. The Olympic Club gave us another glorious chapter, adding a layered story to the narrative of golf. There was only one winner in the end, but the US Women’s Open was spilling with champions everywhere you turn. Yuka Saso (73) fell far behind after just three holes, conceding a pair of double bogeys. Somehow the Philippine summoned her game, retained composure to work her way back into a playoff against Nasa Hataoka (68). Saso held her nerve through the playoff, producing a birdie on the ninth during sudden death to earn the Mickey Wright medal, temporary custody of the Harton S. Semple Trophy and a healthy million dollar cheque.
Megha Ganne with a massive crowd packed around the 72nd green, produced a clutch putt to secure the low amateur honours. She leapt with joy, high fived her caddie, waved to the crowds and signalled the beginning of what promises to be a great story. She may have shot 77 on Sunday to finish in T14, but that put her one ahead of Maja Stark, enough to clinch the medal she craved from her childhood. Megha has a year at school and another four at Stanford, where she will team up with Rachel Heck and Rose Zhang. Make space for more stories from the young girl and her overflowing fable.
“I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life,” said Megha. “It’s everything I’ve wanted since I was little, so it’s just the best feeling.”
Lexi Thompson might want to frame that 66 she shot on Saturday. Not many people can do that to the Olympic Club in San Francisco. On Sunday, she was ahead by five at one stage. But there wasn’t to be a parade for the embattled eleven time LPGA winner. The back nine left her shaken and when she found the bunker on the 18th with her normally reliable iron, it was game over. She finished just one short of the playoff number at 3-under 281. But she still had the character and spirit to spend time with young girls outside the scoring tent, signing autographs and offering them tips about the importance of being nervous.
“I really didn’t feel like I hit any bad golf shots,” Thompson said. “That’s what this golf course can do to you, and that’s what I’ve said all week. But overall, I’d be the first one to tell you that I hit some bad golf shots and I deserved it, but it’s golf.”
“I’ll take today and I’ll learn from it and have a lot more weeks ahead, a lot more years,” said Thompson. “I have a tournament next week, so we’ll take it from here.”
When she made a double bogey at the par-4 sixth, Hataoka was eight strokes adrift. The playoff or any ideas of grandeur around the 18th may have been the farthest from her mind. She grit her teeth and produced five birdies from there to shoot the second best round of the day and put herself into a playoff with Saso. Hataoka also lost a three way playoff in the 2018 PGA Women’s Championship. So this must hurt. But she will gain from these experiences and having already won thrice on the LPGA, believe that eventually she can get the job done one day at a major championship.
Megan Khang had a share of the lead at the end of the first round. Starting the final round at one-under, Khang knew she would need to play on the front foot to contend for honours. She will go home knowing that she tried, and did so on every hole on the final day. Her colourful card was testimony to her willingness to take risks under pressure. It was littered with five birdies and four bogeys including two in the last three holes, effectively pushing her out of the playoff. Khang signed on a 70, enough to T4 with Shanshan Feng at 2-under.
Feng is a champion too. The young woman took a decisive call to skip her consolation match in the previous week’s LPGA Match-Play for third place, deciding to rest her body. It paid her off. The Chinese golfer secured a top ten in the ANA Inspiration and now has a second major top ten this year. The 2012 LPGA Championship might feel like it came in another capsule of time, but she has regained her touch and threatens to usurp a big title again in the near future.
But there had to be a winner. Both Hataoka and Saso made pars on the two-hole aggregate playoff to remain locked in an intense battle. Saso, battling her own demons after a shaky start and some brilliant performances all around her, kept the faith. The 19-year-old found the centre of the cup from 12-feet on the ninth, the first hole of sudden death, to end the contest.
“For the first few holes I had two double bogeys, and I was actually a little upset,” admitted Saso. “But my caddie said, ‘Just keep on going; there’s many more holes to go.’ That’s what I did.” Incredibly, Saso joins Inbee Park as the youngest winner of the US Women’s Open – both women were exactly 19y 11m and 17 days when they won the trophy.
“I don’t know what’s happening in the Philippines right now, but I’m just thankful that there’s so many people cheering for me,” Saso added. “I don’t know how to thank them. They gave me so much energy. I want to say thank you to everyone. There’s so many people holding up Philippines flags, and it’s really big. It made me really happy.”
“I was just looking at all the great players in here,” she said. “Yeah, I can’t believe my name is going to be here.”