There is a very interesting dynamic going on between the PGA Tour’s Greenbriar Classic in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia and the U.S. Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wisconsin.
On the one hand, the men are pretty much beating up the Greenbriar, while the women are being pummeled by the Pete Dye’s design and the USGA setup.
Webb Simpson leads the men by two shots having shot a 5-under 65 without a blemish on his card. That got him to 14-under (65, 66, 65) and handily demonstrated the same maturity of an elite player that won him the men’s U.S. Open in San Francisco.
But reminded that in last year’s tournament all he needed to do was shoot even par on the back nine to get into the playoff, he was philosophical about what happened and just what it takes to be successful:
I think the main thing was I hadn’t won yet so I realized shortly after the round that I wanted it so bad that it kind of — I put more pressure on myself than the pressure I was already feeling, and so it kind of locked me up a little bit and I wasn’t able to perform like I had been all week.
So I think it’s good for me to remember that, not only tomorrow but every week. Boston, I was four or five back and played a good round Sunday and got in a playoff, and U.S. Open again I was four back. So I think this game has proven to me if I just kind of let it come, it usually will. And if you try to force it, it won’t come.
Right behind Simpson just two strokes back is another unblemished scorecard turned in by Troy Kelly. His was a little more impressive since he had eight birdies. But what made it really impressive was that he did it coming off of hip replacement surgery in 2010. What he thought was pulled muscle in his hip was, in fact, bone on bone.
Want to have your golf career flash before your eyes? Try hip replacement surgery when you’re only 32 years old. It took him a year to get back to where he was before the surgery. It will help him on Sunday that his brother, a good player in his own right, will be on the bag.
And one stroke behind Kelly are three more good stories: Ken Duke, the quintessential journeyman I interviewed in Phoenix who’s having a great year (65); J.B. Holmes; who is in the midst of a nice comeback from brain surgery (66); and Charlie Belgan who has done nothing this year and then shot 62 in Friday’s round to bolt up the leaderboard (67).
The overriding story about this field on this course is that it’s not a fair fight. You’ve got Kelly’s 62, four guys who shot 64, and three guys who shot 65. Of the 77 guys who made the cut, you have to go all the way back to the twelve guys at T37 to find just two who shot over par.
The point being that Sunday is going to be a real free for all and there is no telling who will prevail. The smart money looks at a U.S. Open winner sitting on top of the heap and says, “That’s our guy.” But he only has a two-shot lead and we’ve already had two unknown players shoot 8-under.
It’s on CBS and it’ll be good.
The ladies at the U.S. Open have the exact opposite problem. Only five women in the remaining 65-player field were able to break par for the three days. And four of them just barely.
The leader is Na Yeon Choi who shot an easy, 7-under 65. That put her at 8-under with a 6-shot lead. Asked how she planned to defend such a big lead in U.S. Open conditions, she offered pretty good insight into her mind:
This week I tried to focus on my putting speed and just good rhythm with my swing and just good aim. If I hit one bad shot, I don’t want to judge from that one shot. Because this is a very difficult course, and then sometimes we can’t judge — I mean compare this week and regular tournament week. This is a lot harder than regular weeks.
So I don’t judge or compare with the other week. I just do my best and then I just want to hit without regret.
“Hit without regret.” I think she means being so present to her rhythm and her target, that she’s willing to “allow” whatever result comes of it. Don’t judge it, clean up any mess and then go do it without regret again.
Second place belongs to Amy Yang at 2-under. She hasn’t won yet in her four years on Tour, but she has made $2.4 million, so it’s no accident that she’s here. She’ll be paired with Choi and trying to pretend that she’s not:
Nothing change. I’m just going to keep being patient tomorrow, try to do my best.
Mika Miyazato and Lexi Thompson are both at 1-under and will be in the next to last group. Thompson is the one to watch here. She’s got three rounds under her belt in this her 6th Open. With her length and firepower, she could put a lot of pressure on Choi if she should start to leaderboard watch.
Sandra Gal and Solheim Cup wildcard pick, Vicky Hurst are at 1-under and even par respectively. Both of them backed up on a warm and very windy day, but then so did almost everyone else.
That’s what made Choi’s 65 so amazing. She said later that she was more nervous after the round than she was during the round:
I do study my English last two or three years. But right now I’m more nervous than out there. I don’t want to mistake in front of a lot of people. But I tried to improve my English because I want to connect with all the American fans and media. So I just do my best every day, learn a lot of vocabulary. Right now I’m more nervous than out there.
I describe how well she’s coming along with her English in my earlier post, “Na Yeon Choi: Great Player, Gentle Company,” during the Phoenix stop at the RR Donnelley Founders Cup. This is a soft-spoken woman with a rich vein of goodness running through her essence. Perhaps that’s what keeps her so centered when she’s on the golf course.
And because it’s a U.S. Open, there are still plenty of marquee players left in the field: Suzann Pettersen, Cristie Kerr, Michelle Wie, Paula Creamer, to name a few and none of them are conceding anything just yet. And with a very tough, Sunday setup by the USGA, anything can happen.
The ladies are on NBC.