Outside of a Solheim Cup or a lengthy weather delay, 36-hole days are not the norm in women’s professional golf. There is no set-in-stone manner to prepare for such a marathon, and when the pressure of seeking a major-championship berth is added to the equation, it can rattle even the game’s best.
Add to the single-day, two-round grind of U.S. Women’s Open qualifying the opportunity to compete at iconic Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links, and the anxiety levels rose like the mercury in Death Valley.
Of the five women’s professional majors, the U.S. Women’s Open offers the biggest purse – now $2 million to the champion – and has recently been contested on some of the country’s most historic venues. The championship’s debut at Pebble Beach, the site of six previous U.S. Opens, has piqued the interest of everyone from LPGA Tour pros to the game’s best amateurs. In future years, the Women’s Open will head to Oakland Hills, Merion, Oakmont, Inverness, Pinehurst, Riviera, Chicago Golf Club and The Los Angeles Country Club – as well as three future visits to Pebble Beach.
The high stature the U.S. Women’s Open maintains in the game’s hierarchy is Jenny Shin, the 2006 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion and a 13-year veteran of the LPGA Tour, was at Echo Lake Country Club in Westfield, N.J., on May 15 to vie for a spot. Ditto Annie Park, a member of the victorious 2014 USA Curtis Cup Team who competed in her first Women’s Open as a professional (third overall) last year at Pine Needles.
They weren’t among the top 75 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings at the close of entries (May 3), which would have made them exempt into the field. But the Women’s Open is about opportunity, and 36-hole qualifying provided each of them a chance of getting into the field.
“For me, it wasn’t about Pebble Beach,” said Shin, who shared medalist honors with fellow LPGA Tour player Haeji Kang at 5-under-par 137, a day that included a first-round 65. “It’s about the U.S. Women’s Open. I wanted to be in it. I want to play it. I want a challenge. I want to prove to myself that I can do it.”
Added Park, a Levittown, N.Y., native who birdied her final two holes to snag the fourth and final available spot at 3-under 139: “It’s equal opportunity for a chance to play the U.S. Women’s Open. You can qualify to get in.”
It’s why 2007 U.S. Women’s Open champion Cristie Kerr was trying to qualify at Echo Lake, along with other past USGA champions Mariajo Uribe (2007 U.S. Women’s Amateur), Gabriella Then (2013 U.S. Girls’ Junior), Sophia Schubert (2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur) and I.K. Kim (2005 U.S. Girls’ Junior), who earned the second-alternate spot in a playoff.
Experience at such events definitely helps. Veterans of the process understand it’s not a sprint and patience often pays dividends.
Shin, 30, mentioned her recent devotion to fitness as a key to staying fresh the entire day. Nor was Park exhausted after posting a 69 in the afternoon when the breeze picked up.
Now it’s off to Pebble Beach for both. Despite growing up in Southern California (her parents moved there from the Republic of Korea when she was 9), Shin has never played the course. Her game seems to be well-suited for Women’s Open setups, though. After missing the cut in her first two starts as an amateur, she has played the weekend in her last 10 starts, including a tie for 10th at Pinehurst in 2014.
“I have a really good short game,” said Shin, whose lone LPGA Tour win came seven years ago at the Volunteers of America Texas Shootout. “U.S. Opens are all about the short game. It’s not about how far you hit it. It’s about how accurate you are and how good you are around the greens, and ever since [my junior days], I took great care of my short game. That’s what has been paying off in past U.S. Opens.”
Park, 26, got a taste of Pebble Beach and other great Monterey-area venues last fall at the annual TaylorMade Pebble Beach Invitational, an event that brings together players from the PGA Tour, PGA Tour Champions and LPGA Tour. Park has ties to California, having starred for the University of Southern California before turning pro in 2015.
Her favorite hole? The par-5 18th, where she hopes to see seals roaming the rocks and birdies on the green.
“Amazing,” was how Park described the venue. “It’s a classic. It’s almost everyone’s dream to play this legendary golf course.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.