Choi, Yang lead suspended 1st round of WPGA

Writing from Olympia Fields, Illinois

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Thursday afternoon at Olympia Fields Country Club featured Amy Yang against the course, and eventually against the weather.

She opened the 63rd KPMG Women’s PGA Championship chasing morning leader Chella Choi, whose windblown 5-under-par 66 opened a one-stroke lead on Brittany Altomore.

But Yang had the advantage of playing much of her afternoon round on Olympia’s famed North Course in calm conditions, and took advantage from the start, making a birdie on the first hole and holing out from the fairway on the par-4 second, which is usually the 11th for member play.

A bogey on the third followed, but the 27-year-old South Korean’s card for the 6,577-yard course was nearly spotless after that, with four more birdies speckled on a field of pars and one bogey, on the par-3 17th, to stand at 5-under on the 18th tee.

Yang also beat the weather – almost. Play was suspended at 7:01 p.m. for an approaching thunderstorm. Lightning was seven miles away, too close for comfort, and the horn blew before Yang could hit her tee shot. First-round play for the 30 stranded players resumes at 7:45 a.m., with the second round slated to begin on time at 7:30 a.m.

Choi, in contrast, had to deal only with a persistent breeze from the west that gusted to 22 mph at times. While she hit only 12 greens in regulation, she made birdies on seven of those holes en route to the 66.

“My putting is there today, so I made a lot of birdies,” Choi said. “A lot of times, before a shot, I switched my clubs.”

She switched wisely enough to score birdies on four of her last six holes, a garrison finish that vaulted her to the morning lead. If Choi had a technical secret, she couldn’t explain it beyond saying “It’s a perfect line and my stroke is perfect, so I get a lot of birdies.”

That worked enough to open the stroke lead on Altomore before Yang shook down the thunder in the afternoon. And Altomore’s joined by Joanna Klatten, who was at 4-under through 16 before play stopped. She birdied the 14th and 15th to climb out of the second 10.

Meanwhile, defending champion Brooke Henderson and fan favorite Michelle Wie both opened at 3-under 68.

Henderson opened her morning round by saving par on the fourth hole with a long putt, and closed with an inward 32, birdies on three of her last six holes, plus a giddy thought.

“I was going to try to take it a day at a time and see what happens, but I’m in a great spot right now, so I’m really excited,” Henderson said.

Wie went around in the afternoon and poured in four birdies for an inward 4-under 31 after going out in 37. A brilliant approach on the 10th hole jump-started the inward half.

“I hit a sand wedge, and that was the shot that clicked for me,” Wie said. “Had a lot of fun in tough conditions.”

All the way to the finish, where she two-putted for birdie at the last, dodging a spike mark on her four-footer to finish the round.

World No. 1 Su Yeon Ryu celebrated her 27th birthday and first round as the top-ranked player with a 2-under 69, finishing just before play was called. Four birdies and a brace of bogeys were on her card. Like Choi, the wind was a factor for Ryu before it laid down at about 4:30 p.m.

“The wind was howling and sometimes changed direction,” Ryu said. “It’s really hard to make a decision. It was strong enough to affect putting as well, so that was one of the things I struggled with.”

She had 31 putts, but never three-putted, with two of her five one-putts saving par. The other three produced birdies.

Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko each scored 1-under 70 and are in a gaggle tied for 23rd at nightfall.

For Thompson, just playing was a relief. Her mother Judy was diagnosed with uterine cancer, and underwent surgery earlier in the month. She’s doing well enough that Lexi felt comfortable to play this week, and hopes to have her mother on hand at next month’s U.S. Women’s Open.

“It’s been my outlet to go out and play,” Thompson said. “She’s a fighter. She always says to me, ‘Do the best you can do.’ To see how much she’s fighting, she’s an inspiration.”

Around Olympia

Photo by Len Ziehm for Illinois Golfer

Olympia Fields honorary member Carol Mann, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, was the afternoon starter on No. 1. ... The sisters Jutanugarn were eight strokes apart, Moriya scoring 2-under 69, Ariya at 6-over 77 and tied for 128th. The cut is to the low 70 and ties. ... Rounds averaged about 5:15, played in threesomes on a course where many tees are but a few steps from the previous green. ... When you go 84 years between women’s major championships on a course, and have nothing of significance recorded in between, the course record is sure to be beaten. So it was when Brittany Altomore was the first to finish at 4-under 67. That blew June Beebe’s then 1-over 79 from the qualifying round of the 1933 Women’s Western Open out of the water. But Beebe, an Olympia Fields member, went on to win the title, her second in three years. ... The course was not jammed with people in the morning, but there was a good gallery with Michelle Wie’s group, and more fans turned out in the afternoon. There may have been 5,000 on hand over the course of the day. ... An Olympia member knocked down the rumor that only 70 of the club’s members had volunteered, saying, “You could hold a committee meeting out there.”

Tim Cronin


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