Oakmont, Pa. – Everyone from players, caddies and even media members predicted high scores at this week’s U.S. Women’s Open. After all, many consider Oakmont Country Club to be one of the toughest and most daunting layouts in the country, if not the world.
Halfway through the first round on Thursday, those predictions look solid.
Anyone searching for red had to look on the golfers’ faces, not the scoreboard.
None of the 78 players in the morning wave managed to break par on the tantalizing, challenging 6,613-yard, par-71 Henry Fownes design.
Oh, a few players were under par during portions of their round, but the difficult conditions combined with scorching western Pennsylvania heat and humidity eventually took its toll.
Mhairi McKay of Scotland and Japan’s Sakura Yokomine shared the early clubhouse lead with even-par 71s. They were one stroke ahead of several players, including Americans Paula Creamer, who just returned from reconstructive thumb surgery three weeks ago, and Wendy Ward.
On the other end of the spectrum, 15 golfers posted rounds of 80 or higher, including Michelle Wie, who shot 82 after registering an 8-over 43 on the inward nine, her first nine of the day.
Defending champion Eun-Hee Ji of Korea had a 77.
World No. 1 and 2007 Open champion Cristie Kerr had an afternoon starting time, as did 15-year-old wunderkind Alexis Thompson and 50-year-old Juli Inkster, a two-time Women’s Open champion and the runner-up at Oakmont in 1992.
McKay, meanwhile, was one of three players to reach two under par in her round. The former Stanford University standout and two-time Great Britain and Ireland Curtis Cup participant carded a 2-under 33 on the inward nine before coming home in 38.
For McKay, it was a matter of not compounding mistakes and making a couple of critical up-and-down pars. At the par-4 18th hole, she made a 4 from the left-fairway bunker, knocking her third shot to 6 feet. Another poor drive at the downhill first resulted in another layup, but this time she missed from 12 feet. At the second, she three-putted from 45 feet. She rebounded with a wedge approach to 6 feet for a birdie at the third.
The strategy was to take my medicine when those errors came up and just give myself an opportunity to have a putt for par, said McKay, who has three top-10 finishes in the Women’s Open and owned the 18- and 36-hole lead in 2003 at Pumpkin Ridge before shooting a pair of 75s on the weekend (T-6). I did make a couple of really good saves. I just tried to stay really patient out there, and it paid off.
Given a 7 a.m. EDT starting time, McKay said those with afternoon times might find it more difficult to score well, mainly because of the heat. McKay felt that fatigue during a Monday afternoon practice round.
[My husband/caddie] Dave [Smith] did a good job keeping me hydrated, making sure I ate something out there, said McKay. Yeah, the afternoon rounds will be tough. You definitely feel the effects of the heat later in the day.
When it gets this hot it’s hard to eat something, although your body really needs it. But you’re not feeling like it.
Yokomine, who was No. 1 on the Japan Golf Tour money list in 2009, went one better than McKay in making four birdies, two bogeys and a double bogey. She competed in two previous Women’s Opens (2007 and 2008), finishing T-22 and T-51, respectively.
I think putting is very important, said Yokomine through an interpreter. So I am going to try to have a good putting [round].
Creamer is no stranger to early success at the Women’s Open. Her issue has been closing the deal. Last year at Saucon Valley she struggled to a third-round 79 and a year earlier at Interlachen Country Club a final-round 78 cost her a chance at the title.
Perhaps all the rest from the surgery has been a good thing in her Women’s Open preparation. She also has been limiting her practice time and icing the hand daily to prevent any additional swelling.
This is my fourth week in a row, said Creamer, who got to one under par and played a solid round outside of two holes. She three-putted the par-5 ninth hole for a bogey. I’m taking lots of positive energy. I’ve always loved playing in the Women’s Open. I’ve always wanted to do well [and] be in contention here. That just motivates me.
David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org