Kohler, Wis. – The 10-row grandstand behind the first teeing ground was overflowing and the forked path beside Blackwolf Run’s clubhouse that funnels down into the main walkway was backed up with onlookers.
The spectators had paused to watch the final third-round grouping of the 67th U.S. Women’s Open – Michelle Wie, of Jupiter, Fla., and Suzann Pettersen, of Norway.
Within a span of two minutes, each was announced at 12:20 p.m. CDT to rousing, but respectful, applause. The crowd was neither boisterous nor partial.
“I like a nice and respectable crowd,” said Christopher Donlon, of Elkhart Lake, Wis., who received some ribbing from his friends for such a politically correct answer. “I’m serious. I don’t like to see rude crowds.”
That did not appear to be an issue on Saturday. Crowds were treated to a welcome break in the weather as winds cooled Blackwolf Run by nearly 20 degrees and added a new element into the competitive conditions.
Na Yeon Choi best mastered the wind, shooting a 7-under 65 that tied for the fifth-lowest score in any round of the Women's Open, and tied for the lowest score ever in the third round, matching Judy Clark (1985) and Karrie Webb (1997).
“What she is doing is remarkable considering what the scores are out there and how tough the course is,” said John Donoghue, of Brookfield, Wis., as Choi was on the inward nine en route to finishing at 8-under 208, six strokes ahead of Amy Yang.
Choi, 24, of Korea, was cognizant of more than just the course setup.
“A lot of spectators were out there, a lot of Korean people, too,” she said. “So I think they were very supporting me a lot, and encouraging me. Yeah, I think they helped me a lot.”
On Friday, Wie posted the championship’s previous low round – a 6-under 66 – and was looking forward to rekindling the memories of 2005 and 2006 when she was atop the leaderboard through 54 holes.
A bogey-bogey start on Saturday, though, set a negative direction that she could never quite correct. Wie stumbled to a 6-over 78, but was appreciative for the support afterward.
“It was great,” said Wie, who returned to sign autographs in the gallery after her media obligations. “The crowds were awesome today. It was a lot of fun playing with Suzann in the final group. It was a lot of fun being in contention. I'm still not out of it. Don't count me out just yet. “
The 10-stroke deficit Wie finds herself in will be tough to overcome, but plenty of supporters remain, such as the McDonough family, of Whitefish Bay, Wis.
Daughter Janie, 18, a bag girl at Milwaukee Country Club, was able to secure family tickets for Saturday’s third round. While the goal was to walk all 18 holes, quite a bit of time was spent following Wie.
“She’s young and is easy to relate to,” said Janie of the 22-year-old Wie, a recent Stanford University graduate. “Plus, she has great style.”
Janie’s father, Tim McDonough, has been impressed with Wie’s composure throughout her career, and believes she has gotten a bad rap for some of her decisions.
“When she came out and got that big Nike contract, people just like to start talking negatively about people at the top,” he said. “I give her credit for making her own choices and sticking by them.”
Sue Pierce, of Sherwood, Wis., was rooting for no player in particular, but added, “I think people would like to see [Wie] win an Open, given all that she has been through.”
As Pettersen and Wie struggled early, some of the crowds shuffled ahead. The par-3 eighth, which features a grandstand and a large mound next to a concession area, was a popular gathering spot and those there for the Lexi Thompson grouping witnessed one of the few birdies, a 40-foot bomb that created one of the day’s largest cheers.
“I don’t have a particular favorite,” said Ann Rich, of Granite City, Ill., who with her friend Darlene Wenner, of Collinsville, Ill., has attended numerous LPGA events in the upper Midwest. “We just enjoy watching the best players in women’s golf.”
Wenner thought for a second longer and identified Inbee Park, who shot a 76 and is at 1-over 217 for the championship, as the player she most wanted to see.
“I’ve heard a lot about her stroke, that she hits the most perfect shots,” Wenner said.
Perfect shots were not all that common given the conditions, but players still relished the atmosphere.
“It's always so great out here at the U.S. Open, just a lot of people,” said Yang, whose 3-under 69 was trumped by only Choi on Saturday. “I like to play in this crowd.”
There will be one more opportunity on Sunday.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.