Strong Finish Helps Lunke
By Brendan Tierney, USGA
South Hadley, Mass. - In a way, Hilary Lunke's opening round of the 2004 U.S. Women's Open was like her golf game the past 12 months: a little bumpy but with some shining moments.
Playing with the same two players - Kelly Robbins and ex-USA Curtis Cup teammate Angela Stanford - that she edged in an 18-hole playoff at the '03 Women's Open at Pumpkin Ridge, Lunke posted a 1-over-par 72 at the Orchards Golf Club on Thursday.
Lunke, who has only made five of 11 cuts on the LPGA Tour this season to rank 110th on the money list ($25,430), began the day 4 over par after four holes, including a double-bogey six at the 359-yard second hole. But Lunke rallied nicely, posting five birdies over her final 10 holes to keep herself in contention.
"I was a little nervous at the very beginning and made a couple of bad swings on one and two," said Lunke about her slow start. "I righted the ship on the next hole and then almost got up and down on four. I just kept telling myself to stay patient."
That patience helped her par the next four holes and set the stage for a comeback run on nine. She started her string of birdies at the par-5 ninth. Lunke followed that with a 5-iron tee shot to 5 feet at the par-3 10th hole, setting up another birdie. At the par-5 13th, she chipped to 20 feet and drained the putt for a birdie, and at the next hole, she got a good bounce on a "thin shot" to set up a birdie. A birdie at the par-3 17th hole was surrounded by bogeys at the difficult par-4 16th and 18th holes.
"I definitely missed a few shots today, but overall I'm happy with the round," said Lunke. "I knew it was just nerves that got me the first holes. they were very similar to the nerves toward the end of the round last year. I was a little shaky and sometimes I revert back to my old swing habits and get a little sloppy with my play."
Much of Lunke's comeback was attributable to one of her usual strong intangibles - her putting. After watching Retief Goosen switch back to his old putter and win the U.S. Open two weeks ago, Lunke did the same and had similar success, using the lighter putter that she won with last year for the faster greens of the Women's Open.
"I really got that putter rolling on the back nine," said the native of Edina, Minn. "I felt comfortable with the pace of my putts and the rhythm of my stroke."
With her comfort level higher and the nerves of teeing off as the defending Women's Open champion behind her, Lunke is feeling confident heading into Friday's second round.
"Open courses really play into my hands," she said. "You have to hit the fairway, the course plays firm and fast and the greens are fast and tricky. Keep it in the fairway and roll the putter well and you're going to do well. those are the best parts of my game."
If she can take advantage of the course conditions and play the rest of her round like she did the back nine on Thursday, Lunke has the chance to become the first player since Karrie Webb in 2001 to successfully defend her Women's Open title.
Brendan Tierney is a second-year Fellow with the USGA.