U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
Players Are Practiced at Taking Weather in Stride May 29, 2018 | Shoal Creek, Ala. By Julie Williams

After a morning of inactivity, the practice facilities opened at Shoal Creek, and the players took full advantage. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

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With Shoal Creek’s practice facilities closed on Tuesday morning, Megan Khang did a bit of redecorating in her rental home. She and her father Lee, also her swing coach, strategically rearranged the living room to create a space big enough for some impromptu swing work. It’s the kind of adjusting that’s become necessary this spring for LPGA Tour players. Two of the last three LPGA events leading up to the 73rd U.S. Women’s Open Championship have been weather-shortened.

“I could work on the club-back takeaway and try not to break anything in the process,” said Khang, 20, the low amateur in the 2015 Women’s Open, who reported that no keepsakes were harmed by the furniture fine-tuning.

Khang, who has finished fifth and sixth the last two weeks on Tour, was anticipating a total wash-out of Tuesday’s scheduled practice round and had already made plans to take in a movie. Tropical storm Alberto swept through the greater Birmingham area in the morning, forcing USGA and club officials to close the course. Practice facilities opened mid-afternoon, but frequent bursts of rain interrupted warm-up routines and kept umbrellas at the ready.

For Khang, who decided to put in an outdoor practice session at the course when it became an option, the only way to get through weather delays and course closures is by “just doing stuff that keeps my mind off the golf.” Many other players referenced movies, or more specifically, their Netflix queue.

Austin Ernst continued working her way through the TV series “Suits” on Tuesday morning after having the foresight to rearrange her early-week routine. Ernst was only going to play nine holes each practice-round day, but took one look at the weather forecast and decided to play 18 holes on Monday. She followed it with a practice session and as a result, if she doesn’t get back on the course before the first round begins on Thursday, she’ll be OK with it. Her game plan is set, and now it’s just about killing time. That won’t include memorizing her course notes.

“I don’t pore over yardage books,” said Ernst, the 2011 NCAA champion at LSU and a member of the 2012 USA Curtis Cup Team. “I don’t even carry a yardage book.”

Most players in the U.S. Women’s Open field are accustomed to playing the same venues year after year on the LPGA Tour. A good feel for a course, and a little experience, can go a long way. But come U.S. Women’s Open week, an unfamiliar course with a more difficult setup puts a premium on preparation.

Ernst, who has played in four Women’s Opens with a best finish of T44, likes the way the tee boxes set up at Shoal Creek and after one look, thinks the angles fit her eye.

Lee Lopez was in the field at the LPGA’s Kingsmill Championship and Volunteers of America LPGA Texas Classic, which were shortened to 54 and 36 holes, respectively. In fact, Lopez is in a nine-week stretch of competition. She welcomed Tuesday morning’s unscheduled respite.

“I slept in, had some breakfast, went to the gym, ran some errands,” Lopez said. A subsequent conversation with her caddie prompted Lopez to seek out a local restaurant that served acai bowls for lunch before finding her way to the course.

Lopez has learned not to stress about downtime, knowing that she’s already put in the hard work.

“Once you decide, ‘Oh, if I can’t practice, what else can I do to better myself this week?’ that’s when the gym time comes around or more stretching,” Lopez said. “You have to be at peace with what you decide and go with it. There’s going to be more of these.”

For the 29 amateurs in the field – particularly the college players – more than one practice round is a novelty anyway. Class days can’t be sacrificed for multiple days of practice.

Allisen Corpuz, a USC sophomore, would be thrilled to see the course twice this week. Corpuz had just teed off on No. 17 late Monday afternoon when the horn blew for a weather suspension. Without a tee time Tuesday morning, she turned to schoolwork. Corpuz is juggling a gerontology class with summer golf.

Weather challenges can certainly make for long days, especially on the back end of a championship. Take it from Lexi Thompson, who has played the Women’s Open every year since her debut as a 12-year-old in 2007. If the past month has taught her anything, it’s that you can’t control the weather and the best thing you can do is just rest until game days.

“Today is a full day off,” she said early Tuesday. “I've already gotten a workout in and basically make sure I'm relaxed because this is a very long week.”

Julie Williams is a Florida-based freelance writer.

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