Where’d the stars go?! U.S. Women’s Open off to surprising start at Pebble Beach

nelly korda swings

Nelly Korda fired a four-over 76 in Round 1 at Pebble Beach.

Getty Images

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — It was Mark Twain summer weather in California: cool temperatures and cloudy skies. As night fell over the Monterey Peninsula, the same question could have been asked of the sky as the leaderboard.

Where are the stars?

It’s still extremely early at the 78th U.S. Women’s Open — we’re only 18 holes through — but thus far, the stars are largely no-shows. Names like Donegan, Tardy and Moresco adorn the first page of the leaderboard, while the names golf fans are familiar with are nowhere to be found.

Take world No. 1 Jin Young Ko as our first example. She was among the tournament favorites coming into the week — for good reason — and her pinpoint precision with her irons should portend to low scores at Pebble Beach. With the tiniest greens you could imagine plus the challenge of a USGA setup, hitting your spots is a must. But golf is a funny game, and even when all the ingredients are in place, it’s impossible to predict.

Ko, teeing off on the 10th in the chilly morning wave, bogeyed Nos. 10, 12, 14 and 16, and proceeded to make a double at 17. She took 42 strokes to get around her first nine and tumbled down the leaderboard before half the field even teed off. Things were a bit better on her second nine, but with only one birdie against two bogeys, she signed for a seven-over 79 in Round 1 and sits T126 after 18 holes.

Ko played alongside world No. 2 Nelly Korda, whose play wasn’t much better. She came out of the gates with a double on her first hole and etched three more squares on the card before the turn. Korda’s swing has been a work in progress of late (she’s just switched swing coaches), and she’s done everything she can think of to find her way. She was in and out of the TaylorMade truck early in the week looking for a driver-shaft combination she was comfortable with, but no amount of tinkering could salvage her opening round at this Women’s Open. With a 76 on the board Thursday, she’s T83 after one round.

Nos. 3 and 4 in the Rolex Rankings didn’t fare any much better. Lydia Ko limped her way to a 76 of her own, while Lilia Vu posted a 79. If your betting decisions were informed by the world rankings, we send our condolences.

amy alcott swings
How different is this U.S. Women’s Open? Ask a past champ
By: Josh Sens

Among the week’s potential fairytale endings was the last hurrah of Michelle Wie West, who is playing in her final U.S. Women’s Open — but she had struggles of her own. Snake-bitten by a cold putter, her farewell tour started with a whimper. She was unable to card a birdie all day and tripled the par-5 18th when she lost a ball in the Cypress tree guarding the green. Tomorrow will likely be the 33-year-old’s swan song barring a vintage performance.

The Tour’s newest, brightest star — and pre-tournament favorite! — Rose Zhang tried her best to inject some excitement into the championship as she birdied three of her first seven holes, but a double at No. 8 derailed her momentum. She was unable to card a birdie for the remainder of the day and battled through the drizzle and cold and impending darkness to get into the house at two over.

If you were hoping for the stars to show on the game’s biggest stage, don’t panic: 18 holes of poor play is still too soon to sound the alarm bells. Golf tournaments — especially majors — are marathons, and the ones hoisting the trophies typically win the war of attrition. The cream will likely rise to the top as more holes are played and more mistakes are made. But with such sloppy play from the stars on Thursday, they’ve dug some deep holes. With the cut looming tomorrow evening, many of them will need to go low to even move onto Moving Day.

While some of the game’s top names disappeared on Day 1 at Pebble Beach, there was space atop the leaderboard for other storylines to emerge. Xiyu “Janet” Lin, who paced the field Thursday with a 68 has the chance to avenge her heartbreak at Baltusrol, while Hyo Joo Kim can add major No. 2. Áine Donegan, the amateur from Ireland, could become the first am since 1967 to win this championship, while her countrywoman, Leona Maguire, looks to cement her own legacy as the next Irish star.

Golf fans would be wise to familiarize themselves with these names as the tournament heads to Round 2. If the second 18 holes are anything like the first, these names will supplant the prototypical stars as the favorites heading into the weekend.

Zephyr Melton

Golf.com Editor

Zephyr Melton is an assistant editor for GOLF.com where he spends his days blogging, producing and editing. Prior to joining the team at GOLF, he attended the University of Texas followed by stops with the Texas Golf Association, Team USA, the Green Bay Packers and the PGA Tour. He assists on all things instruction and covers amateur and women’s golf. He can be reached at zephyr_melton@golf.com.