Shon’s 63 sets mark at Olympia; Kang, Kim co-leaders through 36  

Writing from Olympia Fields, Illinois

Friday, June 30, 2017

In the United States Open fourteen years ago, Olympia Fields Country Club members blanched when the best players in the world pockmarked their famed North Course with a fusillade of eagles and birdies highlighted by Vijay Singh’s second-round 63.

The mortification of the old-timers quadrupled when columnists from around the country such as Woody Paige mocked the course’s toughness.

Paige isn’t here this week, and some of the old-timers are no longer with us, but the best players in the world – female division – are on the premises, and the scoreboard is once again neon red.

That’s crystal clear after 36 holes of the 63rd KMPG Women’s PGA Championship, where 7-under 135 leads, where 40 players are under par, and where Kelly Shon, whose first-round 77 put her in danger of missing the cut, rebounded with a women’s course record 8-under-par 63 on Friday morning.

The 63, a 14-stroke improvement, not only matched Singh and Rickie Fowler, who recorded his 63 in the first round of the 2007 Fighting Illini Invitational, but is the lowest score in relation to par in Olympia North history. Singh and Fowler were playing against a par of 70.

Oh, and Shon is five strokes back of leaders Danielle Kang and Sei Young Kim going into the weekend.

Kang and Kim each added 5-under 66s to opening 69s and stand at 7-under 135 at the halfway point. First round leader Amy Yang, who completed her 6-under 65 with a birdie on the 18th hole on Friday morning, scored even-par 71 in the second round and is tied for third at 6-under 136 with Chella Choi, Brittany Lincicome and Jodi Ewart Shadoff, the latter two scoring 66s on a North Course softened by an overnight rain and an afternoon cloudburst.

World No. 1 So Yeon Ryu is in a gaggle at 5-under 137, and joined by, among others, defending champion Brooke Henderson, who, buoyed by an eagle at the par-5 18th, added a 69 to Thursday’s 68, and Moriya Jutanugarn, who has toured the North in 68-69.

For Kang, her bogey-free excursions across Olympia’s leafy acreage are going according to plan. A plan concocted in consultation with her brother Alex, a player who played the course in the Fighting Illini Invitational while at San Diego State, firing rounds of 78-76.

“I played Tuesday and walked off the golf course not having a plan,” Kang said. “I kind of was super-overwhelmed and I didn’t know what to do.”

A phone call to Alex and about 10 texted photos later, she had a plan for several previously-baffling holes, and the course in general.

“No matter what, you have to give yourself an opportunity to putt,” Kang said. “I can’t let the greens get the best of me this week. Each shot matters.”

She proved that to herself on the 18th green, when a 30-foot uphill eagle putt came up three feet short.

“I didn’t think about speed, and look, I ended up three feet short,” Kang said. “But it’s not an easy three-footer. It breaks outside the cup. It challenges you.”

She made it for the 66, and while Kim matched her, nobody finished better, though Choi got to 8-under before bogeys on two of her last three holes.

Kim was also bogey-free on Friday, beating the thunderstorm to the clubhouse with her 66, a distinct improvement on an opening 69 that included a double-bogey and two bogeys in four holes late in that round.

“I realized my grip was a little loose,” Kim said of how she held the club. “Just a little adjustment, stronger than before. That was key.”

Seven threes and a deuce on her card unlocked the 66. But she said being in contention won’t alter her outlook.

“I have to focus on what I have to do,” Kim said. “I couldn’t focus on my position, don’t think about it or anything. Don’t think of future. Don’t think of other players scores. Yeah.”

Shon, playing unconscious golf, outdid them all. She had four holes left when the horn blew on Thursday night, and 8-over for those 14 holes. She was clearly on track to miss the cut. But she parred her first three holes of the resumed round on Friday morning, and then dropped a 90-foot putt for an eagle 3 at the last.

“Pure luck,” Shon said. “Dead center at perfect pace.”

A harbinger, to be sure.

“My caddie said to me. ‘I had a feeling you were going to make it. I had a feeling if you made it, you were going to make the cut.”

Shortly after, Shon went back out on the tournament’s back nine and scored 4-under 31, eagling the par-5 18th again, this time with a putt breaking right to left and toppled in. Four more birdies on the front side equaled 32 for a 63, which matched the best score in LPGA/Women’s PGA Championship history. Patty Sheehan and Meg Mallon had scored 63 in the past, but not on courses the caliber of Olympia North.

“I’m really honored by joining those names,” Shon said. “I wish I had known I could have beaten them all by one shot – just kidding!”

Shon is 10-under over her last 19 holes. If she keeps up that pace, she could lap the field by Sunday night – unless Kang and Kim continue to bash the course.

Thanks for coming

The cut fell at 2-over 144 and included 74 players. Among those missing the fun on the weekend: World No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn – who bogeyed her last hole to fall to 3-over 145 – Na Yeon Choi, Yani Tseng, Morgan Pressel, Mo Martin, Laura Davies, Cristie Kerr, Shanshan Feng, Hyo Joo Kim and Karrie Webb, major champions all.

Around Olympia

Among the dark horses is Ally McDonald, who scored back-to-back eagles on Nos. 18 and 1 Friday morning, shot 1-under 70 and stands in a mob at 3-under with Lexi Thompson and Gerina Piller, among others. Thompson posted a 69, Piller a nifty 66. ... There was one stoppage for a rogue thunderstorm from 2:09 to 2:43 p.m. ... Galleries didn’t pick up on Friday, which is a surprise and contrary to Chicago tradition. As with Thursday, over the entire day about 5,000 fans appeared to be at Olympia. The biggest galleries were only a few hundred, following the groups featuring notables including Michelle Wie and Lydia Ko. For all the talent, there’s not a lot of instant name recognition for LPGA players, largely because more coverage in print media and Golf Channel – the only electronic entity to pay attention to the ladies – is dedicated to the PGA Tour. Essentially, the people not on hand don’t know what they’re missing. ... Of Chicago’s traditional print media outlets, only the Chicago Tribune was on hand on Friday. No Sun-Times, no Daily Southtown – the home-area paper, so to speak, no Daily Herald.

Tim Cronin

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