2001 U.S. Girls’ Junior Champion On Top
By Ken Klavon, USGA
Cherry Hills Village, Colo. – Growing up in Chile, Nicole Perrot had a mission of one day joining the LPGA Tour. As a little girl, her father got her aligned with Scottish instructor David Ross. He molded her game so that she would one day be ready for the rigors of the professional ranks.
Looks like the lessons have paid off.
Perrot, the 2001 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion and Women’s Amateur runner-up, heads into the weekend in sole possession of the lead at the 60th U.S. Women’s Open. On Friday at Cherry Hills Country Club, the 21-year-old shot her second straight 1-under-par 70 to hold a two-stroke advantage over Lorena Ochoa and Michelle Wie, both of whom were even-par 142.
Three shots off the lead were Australian Rachel Hetherington (2-under 69), Paula Creamer (2-under 69) and first round co-leader Angela Stanford (3-over 74). Annika Sorenstam, going for the third leg of the Grand Slam, will have an uphill climb after a 4-over 75 pushed her into a 22nd-place tie.
Sixty-three players made the cut. After 36 holes, the field is cut to the 60 lowest scores and anyone tying for 60th place, and anyone within 10 strokes of the leader.
While leaders dropped and new faces appeared near the top of the scoreboard, Perrot’s image has been the one constant over the first two days. The only variation between how she arrived at her 1-under 70s could be found in the number of pars, posting 13 Friday versus seven in the first round.
When she made the turn onto her back nine, she promptly birdied holes 10 and 11. She had a 30-foot eagle opportunity on 11 that stopped 2 feet short of the hole. After getting up and down on No. 18, draining a 4-foot putt, she signed her card and then hugged brother Raul Perrot. The man who had first put a golf club in her hands had flown from Chile to see her perform.
"This is the U.S. Open," he said. "This is the most important event."
At age 8 she represented Chile in a national tournament in Brazil. At 13 she and her parents traveled to the U.S. to play in junior events because the competition would make her better.
Her putting and short game has been reminiscent of the 2001 U.S. Women’s Amateur, where she and eventual champion Meredith Duncan had a duel for the ages. The putting exhibition, where each had made a bushel of 15-foot putts or longer that amounted to 20 birdies between them, was so impressive that former USGA president and World Golf Hall of Famer Judy Bell called it the best display of golf she had ever witnessed.
Since then, Perrot toiled in relative anonymity two years on the Futures Tour before finally getting her card on the LPGA this season. The experience has matured the naturally aggressive player.
"Yeah, of course," said Perrot, who missed the cut in two other Opens. "Sometimes you have to learn when to be aggressive, when to play the right shot."
Asked what it is about USGA events that bring out the best in her, she giggled.
"I don’t know. I guess I have good memories – still have good memories," she said.
Ochoa crafted a couple memories of her own in ascending up the leaderboard. She started the round at 3 over but was even by the 11th hole. Back-to-back birdie bombs on the 15th and 16th holes got her to 1 under.
On No. 15, she hit a 6-iron to 35 feet of the hole and drained it. Then on 16 she grabbed an 8-iron, knocking the ball far right, again 35 feet away. Again she made it. A late blemish, bogey on the finishing hole, left her even but happy.
"I just try to be [have] a good attitude, not too get mad, not to get too excited," said Ochoa, coming off a final-round 65 to win the Wegman’s Rochester. "When you are at the Open and on the back nine, you have to make bogeys – it’s going to happen."
Afterward, Perrot and Ochoa embraced, congratulating each other. However, Perrot will be paired with Wie.
The golf erudite’s 2-under 69 first round score had put her into a tie for the lead. But missed opportunities, and a firmed-up 6,749-yard, par-71 layout despite Thursday evening rain showers, left a conservative Wie determined to shoot under par on the weekend.
"My goal was to shoot consistent under-par rounds all four days," she said. "Didn’t really quite achieve that, so I will just make it up tomorrow."
Tight fairways, punishing rough and unforgiving hole locations forced the normally-aggressive Wie into scale-back mode. She used driver just twice in the second round, on holes 10 and 11, preferring accuracy off the tee with woods or irons. She’s averaged just 246 yards on her drives through both rounds. Eleven fairways in regulation assisted in registering 14 pars.
After a bogey on her first hole she strung together nine consecutive pars, taking what the William S. Flynn design would offer. Afterward, fellow competitor Laura Davies (23-over 165) said Wie didn’t play aggressive enough. Wie felt otherwise using patience as her mantra.
"If I lost my head, I could have shot a big number," said Wie.
Even still, she believes she can win the championship.
"Just the way I am playing and you never know – if I never think I am ready then I can never win," she said.
The day’s most perplexing round belonged to 18-year-old Paula Creamer. Six over through her first four holes, she went on a run for the ages despite having a stomach ache. By the time she made it to No. 13, she had registered and eagle and six birdies. But bogeys on holes 15, 16, 17 shoved her back into the black. It could have been worse had she not sunk a 10-foot par save on No. 18.
The run helped Creamer grab a share of the lead. But she fell off on the 15th green. She stroked a 20-footer for birdie to about 3 feet but lipped the comeback attempt.
"It was kind of hard to actually talk … because I was feeling so awful physically," she said. "I really wasn’t focusing on what was happening at that time. I was trying not to get sick out on the golf course, and it was great though."
Sorenstam, the two-time champion, allowed her frustration to boil over on the 17th teeing ground. After sticking her drive into the rough, she slammed her driver. Three straight bogeys to finish up obviously didn’t please her either.
A string of missed birdie putts had her trying to look forward to Saturday, six shots off the lead.
"There’s nothing wrong with my course management," said Sorenstam, carding just one birdie. "You have to make some putts.
"Sometimes you can’t analyze things. Drop it and move on. … There are birdies out there; I haven’t found them, but hopefully they’re out there tomorrow."
For now, tomorrow for at least one player could be a step closer to validating her dreams. If only female professional from Chile can win, that little girl who grew up with 58 private courses in the country, will have reached the promised land.
"I think of where I come from – sports are small – it took me a little time for me," said Perrot. "You have to learn how to accept that anything can happen."
Ken Klavon is the USGA Web Editor. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.