Transition Day: Women’s Open Players Arrive, Mingle
By Hunki Yun, USGA
VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – Lydia Ko makes her living inside the ropes. But during the final round of the U.S. Open, the 17-year-old from New Zealand was tentative about walking along the fairways of the Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2, as if she were starting her first day of a job in a new office.
One of scores of women who arrived at Pinehurst on Sunday during the unique confluence offered by the back-to-back U.S. Opens, Ko was allowed to walk inside the ropes during the final round of the championship. But she wasn’t quite sure of the protocol.
“Stay within an arm’s length of the ropes,” someone offered.
“Just follow the photographers,” said somebody else.
Quipped a third: “Just be ready to hear ‘Down in front!’”
Ko followed the group of Phil Mickelson – her favorite player – and Brendon Todd for a few holes before jumping ahead to watch Cody Gribble and Sergio Garcia, whom she had met on the driving range earlier that day.
She may have won three LPGA tournaments, but Ko acted like a typical teenager at Pinehurst, posing for pictures with players, running across crosswalks, cheering good shots, and murmuring in disbelief when Mickelson stroked an approach putt on the 12th green that slid past the hole and kept rolling – all the while tweeting about every experience.
For a few hours, Ko was simply a fan.
“It was really exciting to be so close to these players,” said Ko, who had never attended a PGA Tour event. “I’m used to seeing them on TV. The world’s best are here right now. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Many women took advantage of the sneak preview. While the male players were warming up for their final rounds, the range was opened to women at noon, and the first player to arrive for a practice session was Natalie Gulbis.
“This is golf history,” said Gulbis, who arrived at Pinehurst on Friday. “This is a first for the women’s game, and it’s great for us. I was so excited to come out here.”
As noon turned to late afternoon, more and more women began practicing, marking the transition from the U.S. Open to the U.S. Women’s Open that was memorable for competitors of both championships.
“This is something I’ve never experienced,” said Garcia. “It’s good to see them out here getting ready for next week.”
While Pinehurst is hosting its third U.S. Open, this will be first U.S. Women’s Open conducted at the historic course. But many players are familiar with the layout from having competed in the prestigious North & South Women’s Amateur at Pinehurst No. 2.
“I can’t wait to go out and play,” said Yani Tseng, who defeated Morgan Pressel in the final of the 2005 North & South, a match that lasted 39 holes. “I’m also going to watch the men and study their strategy.”
Tseng and Pressel, the winner of the 2004 North & South, will be playing together during the first two rounds of the U.S. Women’s Open.
On Sunday, Tseng was also reunited with fellow former teen phenom Rory McIlroy. Now both 25, she was registering at the Carolina Hotel while he was leaving for his round.
“Rory came up to me and gave me a big hug,” she said. “I hadn’t seen him in four years.”
As McIlroy finished his round and exited the stage, he set the scene for the second act of the USGA’s epic two-week run at Pinehurst.
“It's cool to run into the girls,” he said. “I would like to see it happen more often. I'm going to tune in and watch next week just to see how they get on around here and see how they fare.”
Hunki Yun is the USGA’s director of strategic projects. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.