There was only one player who came off Pinehurst No. 2 and pronounced her day easy, Stacy Lewis. The leader of the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open at 3-under, managed to get it around without a bogey on the card.
“I’m very happy. It was such an easy day. I played really, really solid, other than I had to make a few par putts, I ran some putts by, got them above the hole. But other than that I didn’t put myself in too bad of spots and made a few birdies, which was nice.”
That’s certainly a recipe for an easy day and in stark contrast to what everyone else was saying. And it gave her a 1-shot lead over a steady Michelle Wie who offset her five birdies with three bogeys. 2011 Champion, So Yeon Ryu, Aussies Katherine Kirk and amateur Minjee Lee were another shot back.
Stacy went on to say that it wasn’t that the course was that “easy,” it was just that her day was filled with a bunch of short putts:
“The only thing that was easy about it was that I had a lot of tap in pars. I wasn’t struggling to make par all day. I was really hitting the shots I needed to hit. I was in control of how far I was hitting it. So that’s what made it easy. The golf course wasn’t easy, by any means. It’s going to play hard the rest of the week. But the way it’s set up today, if you hit good shots, you get rewarded.”
A lot of the players, both the men last week and the women this week, talked about the relief that a U.S. Open is a really hard test. The standard has always been that par actually means something, so it takes some pressure off the player when those birdie putts don’t drop as Stacy explains:
“I was just playing solid. Coming into the week I knew par is never a bad score at a U.S. Open. So even if I had a couple of holes I had some 10, 15-footers I didn’t make for birdie, instead of getting frustrated, I told myself it’s an easy par, it’s a U.S. Open, it’s fine. So I really just stayed patient and stayed relaxed out there and hit some really good iron shots coming in.”
With 10 career victories including two majors, the Kraft Nabisco and the British Open, Stacy now has her sights set on winning more majors, always the mark of great champions. And one of the traits of great champions is that they move from mercurial, driven behavior to a state of grace from their certainty that they are good enough. It’s no longer necessary to harangue themselves over the misses and mistakes of the game:
“I think everything I’m doing is geared towards Majors in general. I think to win Majors you have to have control of the ball, you have to putt great, and you have to have control of your emotions.”
“The last one, that’s been the kicker for me the last few years, is control of my emotions. So that’s something that I moved at the top of the list for me this year. That, you know, if I do anything, I’m going to control that. And I did a really good job of that today.”
And even for proven players like Stacy, that certainty that they are good enough sometimes comes from the most unlikely sources. All of the players have talked about what a great thing it has been to have the men’s and women’s Open back-to-back on the same course, particularly a great — as in hard — one like Pinehurst No. 2. It gave them the rare opportunity to come in the week before to watch how the men attacked the course:
“I liked watching the men’s last week because I think I played a lot — I like to hit a cut a lot like Kaymer does. So on a lot of those holes, it was cool to see the plan I had laid out in my head, he was kind of doing the same thing.”
“So it was nice coming into the week, knowing that my plan was going to work on this golf course. I thought that somebody, like the guys, somebody can run away with this. If you’re hitting the ball well enough, you can definitely run away with it. At the same time you have to know par is a good number and keep grinding away.”
And you have to know in your heart that you are good enough to do that. A dominating Open champion like Martin Kaymer ratifying your plan is about as good a litmus test as you can get.
And the rewards are just so glorious:
“Once you get one major under your belt, it’s contagious, you just want to win more and more. And a lot of times you’re announced on a tee or introduced as how many Solheim Cup teams you’ve played on and how many Majors you’ve won. Winning all of them is something I’d like to do some time down the road.”
“I just have geared my game towards Majors. I love it when it’s hard. I love it when you have to grind. I love it when you have to make to 8 and 10-footers for par. It suits me and my game.”
And I love it when a player looks her imagined future in the eye and has moved far enough along the confidence scale that she’s willing to declare that future out loud. Getting the words to come out of your mouth is one of the hardest things to do; we none of us want to be accused of overreaching hubris. Which makes uttering those declarations, in just the right tone, one of the most important things to do.