On May 18, Min Lee was one stroke shy of making her first U.S. Women’s Open – her first USGA championship for that matter – playing in the sectional qualifier at Hermitage Country Club in Manakin-Sabot, Va. She had to settle for being first alternate, then waited 42 days before she got the call.
As a result of Na Yeon Choi being previously qualified, then winning the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, Lee got into the field. The 20-year-old from Chinese Taipei was one of seven alternates to make the field, and now she and Jaye Marie Green are the only two to make the weekend at Lancaster Country Club.
Lee shot a 2-under 68 on Friday to easily make the cut with a 1-under-par 139. Green made it right on the number at 4-over 144.
"I don't care about the score on the leader board because you can't control anybody else,” Lee said.
As dusk fell on Friday, 63 players had qualified for the weekend. The unfortunate were left wishing for a second opportunity.
Of the world’s top-10 ranked players, half failed to make the cut. Leaving Lancaster early are major champions Hyo Joo Kim (No. 4), Suzann Pettersen (No. 5), Shanshan Feng (No. 6), Anna Nordqvist (No. 7) and Brittany Lincicome (No. 9).
U.S. Women’s Open champions Birdie Kim (2005), Cristie Kerr (2007) and Eun-Hee Ji (2009) also failed to figure out the William Flynn design. For Kim, the cut ran deep as this marked the end of her 10-year exemption.
Other notables to miss included Jessica Korda, Natalie Gulbis and former world No. 1 Yani Tseng.
The 25-strong amateur contingent was whittled to five, and Megan Khang leads the chase for low amateur.
Khang, at 1-over 141, will be joined on the weekend by fellow ams Muni He and 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Emma Talley, both at 2 over, Hannah O’Sullivan (3 over) and Mariel Galdiano (4 over).
Among the notable amateurs to miss the cut was France’s Celine Boutier, the 2015 Ladies’ British Open Amateur champion, who is No. 4 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking™.
Laura Davies, the 1987 U.S. Women’s Open champion and the field’s oldest competitor at age 51, continues to amaze. She made the cut at 2 over, but is wistful about years gone by.
“That was literally a lifetime ago,” she said of her victory. “That was my second year as a pro. It all seemed so easy. I played in  more U.S. Opens since then and haven't really got close. I think [at The Merit Club in Gurnee, Ill.] when [Karrie] Webb won [in 2000], I was playing really well then and I could have won it that year. Other than that, I've never really had a chance to win the U.S. Open apart from the one I won.”
Like Lee, Davies gets another chance, even if it is her 25th.
Unexpected Surprise For Henderson
On some days, the worst of rounds, even those that dent major-championship hopes, are easier to put aside when unexpected good comes about.
Such was the case for Brooke Henderson, Canada’s star-in-the-making, early Friday afternoon toward the end of a 3-over round of 73 that pushed her to 3-over 143 in her third U.S. Women’s Open.
There in the gallery she saw two of her friends – Allysha Nicholson and Neil Doef – from Smith Falls, Ontario.
"It’s really cool,” said Henderson. “They're two of my best friends and I didn’t know they were coming. They sort of surprised me and I didn’t see them until [No.] 17."
Doef and Henderson, 17, who turned professional last fall, have known each other since Grade 5. In December, Doef, 18, a talented hockey forward, was playing in the World Under-17 Championship in Saskatchewan when he sustained a hit while behind the goal and suffered a spinal-cord injury that left him paralyzed below the waist.
Doef is predominantly confined to a wheelchair, though in recent months he has reportedly done limited walking with the aid of walking apparatuses.
His spirits were lifted in mid-June when Henderson, along with older sister Brittany, who plays on the Symetra Tour and is serving as Brooke’s caddie this week, returned to Smith Falls to host a charity pro-am. Part of the proceeds went to Doefstrong, a trust fund set up to benefit Henderson’s friend.
“It was awesome,” Doef said. "Really cool for them to put on a tournament to support me. It means a lot and I definitely appreciate it."
On Friday, Doef brought a surprised smile to the face of Henderson, last year’s low amateur in the Women’s Open at Pinehurst and runner-up to Kristen Gillman in the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
"We’d been planning this for quite a while and got the tickets a couple of months ago, and we finally put it all into motion [Thursday], so it’s fun,” Doef said.
That’s what friends do for one another.
Amateur He Discovers Ups, Downs Of Women’s Open
In barely the blink of an eye, Muni He lost the ability to read the lines of Lancaster Country Club’s challenging greens in Friday’s second round.
“Some days, I tend to see the ball go in a lot more,” said He. “It’s all about visualization for me and if it’s a little off and I can’t commit to the line then it tends to be a little tougher.”
After totaling 29 putts in a 2-under 68 that left the 16-year-old amateur just two strokes shy of the first-round lead, she totaled 33 in a 4-over 74.
He, who was born in the People’s Republic of China but now resides in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., finished her weather-delayed opening round Friday morning, then immediately turned to Round 2. She moved to 3 under for the championship after a birdie on the 362-yard, par-4 second hole.
Her troubles began with successive bogeys on the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.
“Yeah, that’s about the time it started,” He said. “I couldn’t see the lines as clearly as I was seeing them early today and yesterday.”
Though He, who plans to attend the University of Southern California in 2017, is making her U.S. Women’s Open debut, she did not panic. Instead she kept working to put good strokes on her putts.
To little avail. He bogeyed the first four par 4s on the inward nine, while salvaging one birdie on the par-5 13th hole.
“You really just try to shake it off and get back to it, but sometimes it's hard,” He said. “Especially when the course is really tough with thick rough and very, very tilted greens. You get one bad break and the next thing you know you have a lot coming at you. You have to shake it off.”
He qualified for this championship by winning a 2-for-1 playoff at the Woodburn, Ore., sectional. Despite the 74, she remained well inside the cutline and in contention for low-amateur honors.
Comfort Level High For Haynie, Lee
It didn’t matter that her potential golf teacher was from an entirely different generation of the LPGA Tour.
When Ilhee Lee of the Republic of Korea sought out Sandra Haynie as her swing coach, it was because the young player wanted to learn from a member of the LPGA Hall of Fame.
The two began working together four years ago, with Haynie, a winner of 42 tournaments and four major championships – including the 1974 U.S. Women’s Open – fine-tuning Lee’s rapidly improving game.
“She’s a special young lady with a lot of talent,” said Haynie, 72, of Fort Worth, Texas, who starred on the LPGA from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. “I guess I’m spoiled because I get to work with some really good players.”
Lee, 26, won the LPGA’s 2013 Pure Silk Bahamas Classic. She posted five top-10s in 2014, including a tie for second at the Mizuno Classic.
She has already posted six top 10s and two top-five LPGA finishes this year and is currently No. 40 in the Rolex World Rankings.
Lee finished a career-best fourth at the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open, and is making her fourth Women’s Open start this week. Haynie is also here to encourage the young pro.
“She’s really good, especially with my short game and when she’s out here with me, I feel more comfortable,” said Lee, of Dallas.
Haynie has traveled to three of Lee’s tournaments this season. She teaches a few other professionals and also works with the women’s golf team at Texas Wesleyan University, which advanced into the NAIA Women’s Golf Championship this year for the first time, tying for ninth among 17 teams.
Her Hall-of-Fame coach has helped Lee better understand how to compete against the world’s top players.
“When I looked at her record, I knew I wanted her as my coach,” said Lee. “And after I won on the LPGA Tour, I told her I only have 41 tournaments remaining to catch her.”
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites. Lisa Mickey contributed.