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10 parting thoughts from a hectic but successful U.S. Women’s Open

July 17, 2017

BEDMINSTER, N.J. — With apologies to my esteemed colleague Jon Wertheim, here are 10 parting thoughts from the U.S. Women’s Open.

1. Koreans have now won seven of the last 10 U.S. Women’s Opens—and they occupied the top four spots on the leaderboard this year, while the low American was New Jersey’s own Marina Alex, who tied for 11th. Cristie Kerr had an outside shot heading into Sunday, as she was tied for eighth five shots off the lead, but Kerr made five bogies during a 75 that sent her skidding to 19th place. What does she make of the Korean’s dominance in women’s golf’s most important tournament? “We’re outnumbered, simple as that,” she says. Uh, not exactly. The LPGA has 27 active players from Korea, and nearly three times as many from the U.S. At the Open, there were 54 Americans in the field to 28 Koreans. It may be more of a function of which athletes are drawn to the sport from their respective countries. The best jocks among young American girls can aim for the bright lights of the WNBA or the big money of tennis or the national adoration of the U.S. women’s soccer or water polo team, among many other options. Says Kerr, “In Korea, you play golf or you’re a student. That’s it.” So is there any hope for American golf at the Open? “I gotta have more babies, clearly,” Kerr says.

2. Setting everything else aside, the sitting President of the United States spent 2.5 days at a women’s golf event and sent a half dozen tweets about it that were beamed around the world. Pretty amazing.

3. There is plenty more talent in the Korean pipeline: H.J. Choi, 17, finished solo second and by four strokes posted the best score ever by an amateur at the U.S. Women’s Open.

4. If you love women’s golf, as I do, it was dispiriting that the biggest tournament of the year had to deal with a series of unsavory headlines: the crude words about women in the past by the man whose name graces the club that held the event; the death of Hootie Johnson, which disinterred all the old unpleasantness surrounding the eight decades of Augusta National all-male membership practices; and all the conversation surrounding the LPGA’s new dress code. The guidelines about clothing had been emailed to LPGA members a couple of weeks ago and it was bad luck that the news leaked during the Open. Among the players there was a wide divergence of opinion.

“The only point I agree with is that there should not be low-cut tops, but I’ve never really seen that be an issue,” says Sandra Gal. “I think racerbacks look great on women and I think short skirts have been around forever, especially in tennis, and I don’t think it’s hurt that sport at all, considering they play for the same prize money as the men. Our main objective is clear: play good golf. But part of being a woman, and especially a female-athlete, is looking attractive and sporty and fit, and that’s what women’s tennis does so well. Why shouldn’t we? I’ve talked to a few other players and, like me, they don’t agree with it, either.”

Christina Kim offered a counter-argument: “I may sound like an old fuddy-duddy, but this is our place of business and I think players should look professional. Do you really need ventilation for your side-boob? It’s not going to make your score better.” In her mind it was important to codify what is expected. “There were a couple events earlier this year where we didn’t have our strongest fields and some players came from other tours or developmental tours and they’re not necessarily under contract with clothing companies and so there was some non-traditional outfits,” she says. “Hopefully spelling out what is considered appropriate will help those players.” Jane Park probably spoke for the majority when she said, “Most of us keep things pretty conservative, so this only really applies to a few people. Honestly, I don’t see why everyone is making such a big deal about it. But some people get butt-hurt about random stuff that doesn’t really matter.”

5. Brooke Henderson is not a good loser, and that’s a good thing. Not saying the young Canuck lacks sportsmanship—she is always classy, even in defeat. But after finishing second at the Women’s PGA Championship she came to the Open expecting to win. Then mediocre putting doomed her to 13th place. After the round Henderson was so disappointed and frustrated she was sobbing. Watch out for her at the Women’s British Open in three weeks time.

6. The light crowds at this year’s Open had more to do with bad weather the first two rounds and a very remote location than any kind of political protest. How far out into the country is Bedminster? A bear wandered onto the grounds on Sunday morning.

7. I’m loving this business about JeongEun6 Lee’s name. It turns out there are six women named JoengEun Lee on the Korean LPGA so they have formally been given numbers, too. There’s gotta be a sci-fi movie in this.

8. If you’re going to miss a cut, the Women’s Open was probably the best week of the year to do it, allowing for a weekend of fun in New York City. Reached by phone Sunday evening, Alison Lee narrated her time in the Big Apple, beginning on Saturday night: “We went to a steak restaurant, then a beer garden, then another bar and then we got pizza and went to bed [at 3 a.m.]. This morning we had brunch, and then dessert, then macaroons. I was hanging out with Michelle [Wie] in Chelsea and she was like, ‘I should get my ears pierced.’ And I said I wanted a tattoo so we walked into a tattoo parlor and thought about it some more but wound up not getting anything done. Then we went to Chelsea Market and got tacos. Then we went to this place that sells only edible cookie dough. We waited like an hour, but it was so good. But afterward we felt gross so we went to Fly Wheel for a spin class. After that we walked around shopped. Now we’re going to go to church, then go eat, then go to a rooftop bar. It’s good to get away from golf for a little while.”

9. Wie’s W/D due to a neck injury was the latest setback for women’s golf’s most brittle enigma; she remains winless since what was supposed to be her overdue breakthrough at the 2014 Women’s Open. Much has been made of her squat, angular setup to the ball, but one of her Solheim Cup teammates could not offer much analysis, saying, “I saw her swing exactly once like that and have refused to look at it since—I don’t want that infecting my swing thoughts.”

10. Gal was one of the select players who had an audience with President Trump during Open week. She is not keen to discuss politics but says, “He’s always been very nice to me and the other players. I met him at Turnberry and he remembered that.” Trump quizzed Gal about the speed of the greens, thickness of the rough and other details as to how his course was playing. “I asked him how he was doing,” she says, “and he said, ‘This Russia stuff is nasty business, much nastier than trying to make a three-foot putt.'”