Lancaster C.C. Provides Masterclass at U.S. Women’s Open in Round 1

By Ron Sirak

| May 30, 2024 | Lancaster, Pa.

Lancaster C.C. Provides Masterclass at U.S. Women’s Open in Round 1

The complete test demanded by a USGA championship was on full display in Round 1 of the 79th U.S. Women’s Open Presented by Ally. The always pristine and at times prickly Lancaster Country Club demanded shot-making, discipline and patience, producing a leader board sparsely populated with red numbers.

Playing in a swirling wind that compounded the challenges of the dramatic elevation changes and precise positioning needed on the sharply contoured greens, Yuka Saso, the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open champion at The Olympic Club, passed the test with a 2-under-par 68, one stroke clear of Andrea Lee, Wichanee Meechai and amateur Adela Cernousek.

One stroke farther back at even-par 70 are Sei Young Kim, Alexandra Forsterling, Chisato Iwai, Yuri Yoshida, Jenny Shin, 2012 U.S Girls’ Junior and 2022 U.S. Women’s Open champion Minjee Lee, reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Meghan Schofill and two other amateurs, Catherine Park and 15-year-old Asterisk Talley, who went through qualifying to earn a spot in the field.

Yuka Saso walking

Yuka Saso as seen on the 16th hole during Round 1 of the 2024 U.S. Women's Open Presented by Ally at Lancaster Country Club (Chris Keane/USGA)

“I made really good putts,” said Saso, who topped the field in strokes gained putting and is second in strokes gained off the tee — a powerful combination of prowess.

“I think I was more lucky than playing good,” she said. “I think I had a few very long par putts in the first few holes, as well. I think I was just very lucky, and I was able to have fun out there with Hannah [Green] and Brooke [Henderson].”

In 2015, In Gee Chun won here with a score of 8-under-par 272. All indications on Thursday were that 272 might be an overly ambitious goal this week. This course is a true championship test.

“It was definitely tough out there today,” Lee said. “I knew it as soon as I walked out of the hotel. It was gusting pretty good. This golf course is such a test … and par's a really good score out here.”

To get the course into its current condition, members of Lancaster C.C. have played off mats since October and have not set foot on the course at all since May 13. The William Flynn masterpiece is superbly conditioned and brilliantly set up for this championship. Amazingly, a high school freshman was one of those who found the key to the course.

“I feel like I could have done a lot better today, but I'm not mad at all about my round,” said Talley, who shot 70 despite an 8 on the par-5 seventh hole. “Coming into the round I was hearing everybody say even par is a good round today. I wish I could have been a couple under par. With that triple I could have played a lot better but I'm happy with where I'm stand and I feel like that gives me confidence going into tomorrow.”

Nelly Korda out of bunker

Nelly Korda struggled during Round 1, carding an 80 at Lancaster. (Jason E. Miczek/USGA)

Among those who found the test tough were Rolex Ranking No. 1 Nelly Korda, who has won six times this year on the LPGA Tour. She began her round on No. 10 and by the time she finished the par-3 12th hole in 10 strokes, the hill she had to climb to win her first U.S. Women’s Open had grown significantly higher.

Korda hit the back bunker on the 161-yard, downhill test, playing well past the hole location near the false front. Her shot from the bunker failed to check up, caught the slope and drifted into the creek. After a penalty drop, she failed to clear the false front with her fourth shot, took another drop and made the same mistake again to fall to eight over par just three holes into the U.S. Women’s Open.

“Just honestly, I just didn't play well today,” Korda said. “Making a 10 on a par 3 will definitely not do you any good at a U.S. Open. I started off really poorly but played pretty well on the back nine. Just a bad day in the office. I'm human. I'm going to have bad days.”

If Thursday was a preview of what’s to come – and there is no reason to think it isn’t – then this will be a championship where single-digit under par will be good enough to win. Maybe it was 15-year-old Talley who gave the best advice.

“I feel like the rough and stuff, you just have to stay in the fairway and on the greens, and if you do that, you'll be fine,” she said.

Easier said than done – perhaps unless you are 15.

Ron Sirak is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer.