The Other U.S. Open

And so we roll into the month of July and smack dab into another big deal tournament, the LPGA Tour’s third major of the year, the U.S. Open, played this year at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It’s run by the USGA, of course, but the lion’s share of the players are LPGA players. But that doesn’t always mean a well known star will win.

What do Alison Nicholas, Hilary Lunke, Birdie Kim, Inbee Park and Eun-Hee Ji have in common? Beginning with Nicholas in 1997, they were all U.S. Women’s Open winners who were completely unknown to most U.S. golf fans.

England’s Alison Nicholas would go on to become the Captain of the European Solheim Cup Team. But when she won the Open few people outside of the industry knew her because most of her play was in Europe. This in spite of the fact that she’d also won twice on the LPGA Tour before she won the Open. Winning the Open was a monumental event for her, “I shall just remember this forever, really. I shall enjoy telling my niece and nephew, if I don’t have any children, that is, about the day, and playing with Nancy Lopez and winning the U.S. Open.”

American Hilary Lunke, winner of the 2003 Open, had played on the LPGA Tour but had to qualify to play in the Open. She was the first qualifier to win it. She played at Stanford barely making the traveling team, but generally playing number 1 or 2 because she was so good in competitive situations. The moment she won the Open, “I was just thrilled. And then to look up and see – I could see a lot of my friends directly up behind me in the stands, and just to hear the roar of the crowd. I heard that roar twice for Angela, and to hear it for me was just a real experience.”

Korean Birdie Kim, winner in 2005, changed her first name because there were too many Kims on Tour and she want a golf name that would distinguish her. She won her card after three years on the Futures Tour, lost it and went back to Q-School to win it again. Almost all of the Korean players feel they owe a debt of gratitude to their trailblazer and mentor, Se Ri Pak, who won the Open in 1998. “Really happy and I am just like – I am really proud I am following Se Ri Pak’s, what she achieved. I am stepping up to her, I really look up to her. We’re like sisters and I am really happy to win.”

Korean Inbee Park, winner in 2008, moved to the U.S. as a girl, graduated from high school in Las Vegas and won 9 events on the American Junior Golf Association. She played a year on the Futures Tour where she won her LPGA Tour card. She had already tied for 4th in the 2007 U.S. Open. “I feel very, very happy. Really don’t know what’s happening right now. I have no idea what’s happening right now. I feel very honored that I win this championship at the Interlachen Country Club, and especially with Annika’s last event, I really want to share this win with her, too. Very honored to win this championship, and this is very, very special to me, and I will never forget this moment.”

Eun-Hee Ji, winner in 2009, turned pro in Korea in 2004, joined the LPGA Tour in 2007 and had two top 10s in her first four tournaments before finishing T5 in the British Open. In 2008, she won the LPGA Championship. But the Open was the big one. “Wow. You know, I like it and I’m really happy, and you know, this being the major tournament, I think this will be one of the most memorable moments in my life.”

So while all of these ladies were virtual unknowns, they all had playing pedigrees and credentials that warranted their wins. But beyond that, of course, they all shot the lowest scores in their Opens that warranted their wins.

So this year, as we hone in on the Open and start to pay attention to how our stars are doing, let’s not lose sight of the fact that everyone in the field has a dream and worked very hard to get there…and let’s hope that the hopes and dreams of everyone in the field will be as honored and nurtured as much as our revered stars’ dreams are.

As usual, there is quite a range of players to chose from. The youngest qualifier in the field is 13-year-old, Mariel Galdiano, of Pearl City, Hawaii, who won the one and only spot available at the sectional qualifier at Poipu Bay Golf Club in Koloa, Hawaii. And the oldest qualifier is two-time Open winner (1989, 1990), Betsy King, of Scottsdale, Arizona, who qualified at Alta Mesa Golf Club in Mesa, Arizona.

And because the USGA is so stringent about players having to qualify in some way in order to be in the Open, there’s nobody in the event who doesn’t deserve to be there. The stars will be getting all of the attention, but you never know where the winner of the Open will come from.

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