Kohler, Wis. – Normally, golfers try to avoid water. This week, they do so at their peril.
The heat index maxed out at 105 degrees Thursday afternoon at Blackwolf Run during the first round of the 67th U.S. Women’s Open. Today’s weather forecast calls for more of the same bright and balmy weather, with an excessive heat warning issued for much of the state.
That means golf’s toughest championship will continue to take on an extra dimension of difficulty.
Difficult it was in the first round, with just 14 players bettering par and the field averaging 76.160.
You could cut the tension with a knife – if you could keep the knife from melting.
Players who didn’t wilt under the pressure found themselves able to manage a score worth savoring. Patience was required and will remain an asset today. Getting hot under the collar won’t help when you’re sweating everywhere else.
“The main thing is just giving yourself opportunities, constantly,” said 2010 champion Paula Creamer, who opened with a 1-over-par 73. “It’s so hot [and] it’s such another element to add to it that … you're not thinking 100 percent clearly all the time. And I think that's the hardest fight and battle out there.”
“It's just another element,” Wendy Ward said of the heat after carding a 72. “At the British [Open] you’ve got rain or wind or cold, so it's just another element that you can't get too caught up in. The golf ball flies nice when it's this hot. A lot better than when it's cold.”
That helps on one side of the golf course, but not on the other: the greens, where the scoring must be done. The greens are firm and running faster than they did during practice rounds. Scoring chances weren’t plentiful. It’s not likely to change.
“With long irons I'm going to be going to the middle of the greens and the shorter irons I'm going to play a little more aggressive,” Ward, one of nine players in the field who competed in the 1998 championship at Blackwolf Run, said of her strategy going forward. “I just think you gotta take your chances where you get them, make the most of it and stay patient.”
Beatriz Recari, who trails first-round tri-leaders Lizette Salas, 2007 champion Cristie Kerr and Brittany Lincicome by one stroke after a 70, also talked about giving herself chances. “I played very smart out there,” she said.
“Just make sure that if I was not going to be able to go for the pin, just position the ball in the right place so that I could have an easy two‑putt.”
Oh, yes, putting. Look at the lucky few who scored sub-par rounds and a pattern emerges. Most putted well. Lincicome changed her putting stroke recently and needed only 27 putts Thursday.
“I heard [TV announcer] Judy Rankin on the interview, she said it's going to be the player who gets the ball up‑and‑down,” said Lincicome, the 2009 Kraft Nabisco champion. “It's not necessarily a player that's going to hit it in the fairway every time or hit it in the green. It's going to be the player who gets it up‑and‑down the most. And I felt I did really, really good at that. It was nice to kind of see the putter kind of going my way, and I felt very confident today with it.”
And what about Friday? “You never know what's going to happen,” added Lincicome, who recently reeled in a 400-pound grouper in the Gulf of Mexico not far from her home in Seminole, Fla. “I feel great. I feel like I'm hitting it well, putting it well. Keep doing that, and I'll be where I need to be.”
Indeed, that game plan works well anywhere, under any conditions.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.