|Helen Alfredsson said afterward that she grinded as much as she could. (John Mummert/USGA)
By Stuart Hall
Edina, Minn. — At age 43, Helen Alfredsson is well aware that her opportunities to win a U.S. Women’s Open are fleeting, if not finished. And, at age 23, Stacy Lewis is hopeful there will be plenty more experiences like this week.
Both were poised to win their first when play began on Sunday at Interlachen Country Club, but their respective games sputtered throughout the day and were left to settle for also-ran status at this 63rd U.S. Women’s Open.
Alfredsson, playing in her 16th U.S. Women’s Open, shot a final-round 75 to finish second at 5-under 287, four strokes back of 19-year-old champion Inbee Park. One shot back of Alfredsson, in a tie for third, was Lewis, the 54-hole leader who ballooned to a final-round 78 in her professional debut.
"Well, I think I'm very much at the end of my career, so I don't know what it means," said Alfredsson of her finish. "It's very nice to come back after a bunch of years that you struggled. And I feel a lot better in my body and all my injuries are sort of gone. And all the practice I put in has given me results that I hit the shots that I want. That's been very nice.
"You saw that it was a tough day, because everybody was losing shots — except [Park]. But, it was just a grinding day, just fighting on every single shot. And it's nice that it's over. I'm getting too old for this."
Twice before Alfredsson flirted with capturing a championship that she dearly covets. In 1993 at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind., Alfredsson held the 54-hole lead and closed with a 74 to finish tied for second, a stroke back of Laurie Merten.
The following year, Alfredsson opened with an 8-under 63 at Indianwood Golf and Country Club in Lake Orion, Mich., held the 36-hole lead and shot 76-77 on the weekend to tie for ninth.
Not since then had Alfredsson, a seven-time European Solheim Cup player and winner of 19 tournaments worldwide, been in contention at this championship.
"I haven't been under this kind of pressure in so long," she said.
Likewise, if ever, for Lewis, the former University of Arkansas All-American and 2007 NCAA Division I champion, who left behind the amateur ranks on June 9.
"Today I felt like I didn't really play that poorly," said Lewis of a scorecard that had four bogeys and a double bogey. "I just got above some of the holes and you just can't be there. I was hitting my shots a little farther than … just maybe some adrenalin. It's hard to be upset, I finished third at the U.S. Open, my first pro event."
Of the top five finishers only Park was under par, a clear sign that final-round nerves and windy conditions were taking hold. Paula Creamer, who was a shot back of Lewis on Saturday, also fired a 78 to drop back into a tie for sixth.
"The wind was hard out there," Lewis said. "It was swirling every hole. You couldn't get a general direction of the wind at all. It was hard to trust the clubs that you had, if you even had the right club."
Alfredsson’s bugaboo was not so much the conditions, but another sloppy putting round. She took a week high 35 putts, including three three-putt greens.
"It's always going to come down to the putts," she said. "Of course it's very important to hit the fairways and hit the greens. But the putts [are] where the difference is."
Alfredsson, with all her years of experience, admitted to a small case of jitters on Sunday mainly because she had not been in the hunt for so many years. Her last LPGA win was in 2003. Lewis, meanwhile, outside the frustration of hitting poor shots, appeared in control of her emotions on this national stage.
"I was actually fine," Lewis said. "I wasn't that nervous at all. It was just a cool experience. The whole day was just awesome. The fans are great. Everybody is yelling your name as you're walking down the fairway. I shot 78, but …"
But you never know what might have been — or if the chance will ever come again.
Stuart Hall is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on www.uswomensopen.com.