By Erica Goodman and David Shefter, USGA
Bethlehem, Pa. – For the second time in three years, Jennifer Song earned low-amateur honors at a U.S. Women’s Open. Only this time, Song didn’t have to share the achievement.
At Pine Needles in 2007, Song tied with Jennie Lee as the top amateur. At Saucon Valley Country Club, Song’s 7-over 291 total was two strokes better than teenagers Jessica Korda, 16, and Alison Lee, 14.
“It’s incredible,” said Song, who two weeks ago claimed the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links title. “I can’t describe it in words. I’m really thankful for what I have achieved.”
Her showing at Saucon Valley had a hint of déjà vu. When Song tied for low amateur in 2007, the championship’s winner was Cristie Kerr. This week Kerr held the 54-hole lead, but a final-round 75 dropped her to third place behind surprise champion Eun-Hee Ji.
Song will compete in two Duramed Futures Tour events before heading to Old Warson Country Club in St. Louis for the U.S. Women’s Amateur in early August. It will be her third USGA championship of the year and equally as challenging.
“I need to keep myself sharp,” said Song “[The USGA] always makes the players work really hard to get a good score. We need to be focused from the beginning to the end.”
Father Knows Best
As 14-year-old amateur Alison Lee approached the 18th tee, she quickly noticed the markers had been moved up 56 yards to make the hole play 388 yards. Knowing she needed a par on the final hole to finish one under for the day, Lee wavered between using driver and 3-wood. She was worried about finding the right bunker.
“My dad said, ‘Use the driver. It will be fine,’” said the Valencia, Calif., teen competing in her first U.S. Women’s Open. “He told me if you get in the bunker, I will give you $200 and I’ll roll down this hill.”
Lee, the youngest competitor to make the cut, laughed at her father’s gesture and went with driver. She took a mighty lash and still couldn’t reach the hazard. From there, she made her par and finished with a 1-under 70, tying 16-year-old Jessica Korda for low honors at 9-over 293 among the three juniors (17 and under) to make the cut. Alexis Thompson, 14, finished at 11-over 295.
“It was real exciting,” said Lee, who is 16 days younger than Thompson. “It was a lot of fun. I think I could have played better, but I am happy with one under here.”
Lee will play the McDonald’s Betsy Rawls Girls Championship this coming week in Malvern, Pa., before competing in the U.S. Girls’ Junior at Trump National in Bedminster, N.J., July 20-25. It will be Lee’s third appearance at the Girls’ Junior.
A Welcomed Shower
Heavy rains soaked the Lehigh Valley on Saturday, with 1.2 inches of water being dumped on the Old Course. It softened the conditions a little for the final round after a week of crystal clear days and firm conditions.
The downpour was a reminder of the rain that wreaked havoc on the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black a few weeks ago.
But Mother Nature was much kinder to the women, and for the first time since 2003 the Women’s Open did not have a single suspension of play.
Sunday’s softer conditions did produce lower final-round scores, as the average dropped three shots from barely over 76 to 73.001. A total of 13 sub-par rounds were produced on a layout that was the shortest the field saw all week. Several tee markers were moved up to produce more risk-reward opportunities.
“[The course] feels a little different because yesterday was so firm,” said Jiyai Shin, whose 3-under 68 tied for the day’s low round with Hye Jong Choi. “A lot of rained helped for today.”
With a more aggressive approach, Shin hit 12 greens in regulation and moved up 29 spots to earn a share of 13th.
Despite being a bit more receptive, the greens did not lose any of their speed.
“They’re still as fast,” said Stacy Lewis, who carded a 70. “They actually stayed pretty consistent.”
Another Happy Ending
For the second consecutive year, Korda carded a final-round 69 at the Women’s Open. Her 2008 finish was the only sub-70 round on Sunday and earned her a tie for 19th, giving her an exemption into this year’s championship.
The lanky teen, whose father, Petr, won the 1998 Australian Open in tennis, was not bashful in her final battle with the Old Course. With tee markers moved up to 256 yards on the par-4 15th hole, Korda’s aggressive drive to the green rewarded her with an eagle-2, the only eagle produced on Sunday.
Korda returns to the USGA stage in just over a week, where she will join Lee and defending champion Alexis Thompson for the U.S. Girls’ Junior at Trump National Golf Club in nearby Bedminster, N.J.
A Nervous Condition
Holding steady near the top of the leaderboard, Brittany Lincicome tried to make a run but something got in the way.
“I was so nervous for some reason,” she said.
After saving par at 15, Lincicome trailed leader Candie Kung by two strokes as she approached the par-4 16th hole.
“I had a great line to the green, just trying to two-putt it,” said Lincicome, who eagled the 72nd hole at this year’s Kraft Nabisco Championship to win her first major title.
After an aggressive first putt, her par putt slipped 3 feet by the hole and her chances to win were dashed.
“I was shaking so bad,” she said. “I was nervous coming down the stretch. I need to learn to get rid of that.”
Lincicome posted a 1-under 70 to finish fifth, three strokes behind winner Eun-Hee Ji.
“It doesn’t seem to be the top players every year that win this event,” she said. “It’s pretty fun to see who can step up and who can hold it all together coming into the last hole.”
Erica Goodman is a third-year fellow in the USGA Grants and Fellowship Program in Colorado Springs, Colo. David Shefter is a USGA Digital Media staff writer. E-mail questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.