Why Amy Olson’s final round was her most memorable

Amy Olson at the 2023 U.S. Women's Open

Amy Olson is all smiles walking up the 18th fairway during the 2023 U.S. Women's Open, her last start on the LPGA.

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Happy Mother’s Day! This week, we’re highlighting the experiences of some of the most high-profile women in the game, each of whom share a meaningful title: Mom. Next up: Amy Olson.

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Amy Olson had a secret. On June 7, at the ShopRite LPGA Classic in Galloway, N.J., she was noncommittal about her future in pro golf. She was due with her first child in September, but she wasn’t about to make any predictions about balancing motherhood and life on the LPGA Tour. Would she be back? Would she retire?

“Truly I couldn’t tell you either way,” she said. “Will I ever come out again? Couldn’t tell you. Not sure.”

Fast forward 11 months and Amy Olson is driving in Fargo, N.D., heading to her parents’ house. Her daughter, Carly, born Sept. 15, 2023, is content in her car seat, so this interview will last about as long as Carly lets it.

Here’s where Olson lets us in on her secret, something she knew for quite some time, even though she didn’t say it publicly. She’s done.

“Right now I’m 100 percent committed to just being home and moving on to that next chapter,” Olson says. “You don’t have to make decisions for 15 years down the road right now — but I don’t see it changing.”

Olson, 31, publicly retired from the LPGA last month, posting a heartfelt message on social media. This was always the plan, she says. Olson and her husband, Grant, discussed this phase of their future early in their relationship. The LPGA, the travel, the grind, the birdies and the bogeys, that was always going to be a chapter in their story — and it was a good one — but now motherhood is Olson’s primary occupation.

“I think family is more important than any career success you could ever have, and I think career success is just a means to providing for your family,” Olson says. “But relationships at the end of the day are really what matters.”

Olson started playing golf at 2 and eventually won a ton of local and regional tournaments, but it was her win at the 2009 U.S. Girls Junior Amateur that gave her the confidence she needed to complement her skillset. She went to nearby North Dakota State University and immediately found success — winning five times in each of her four seasons at school. Her 20 wins broke the NCAA record previously held by Juli Inkster (17).

“I swear she never did miss a fairway,” said Matt Johnson, Olson’s college coach. “She was just fairways and greens and just rarely was out of position, unlike nobody I’ve seen.”

Amy Olson tees off during the final round of the 2020 U.S. Women's Open.
Amy Olson tees off during the final round of the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open. Getty Images

Olson turned pro in 2013, continued to keep her card and turned in the best season of her career in 2018, when she made 19 of 24 cuts and had four top 10s. Her best finish was also her biggest disappointment, when she tied for second at the Evian Championship, an LPGA major. She double bogeyed the 72nd hole to lose by one.

Olson said the right things afterwards. She said she played aggressively and was disappointed and was pleased with her best-ever major finish, which she called a positive. She later told Johnson how badly she wanted that one, and admitted it was hard. It’s the only time he remembers Olson verbalizing those feelings after a defeat.

Two years later, Olson was back in major contention when she held the 54-hole lead at the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open. But she had more to overcome in her final round than just cold, wet weather and a difficult course. Olson’s father-in-law, Lee Olson, died unexpectedly on Saturday night. Grant left Texas for home in Minnesota. Olson stayed. Sunday at the U.S. Women’s Open was rained out, but when Monday arrived, playing under challenging circumstances, Olson bogeyed three of the first hour holes. She played the final 14 in two under, but A Lim Kim birdied the last three holes to beat Olson by one.

“I knew I had to stay very mentally disciplined just to get through the day,” Olson said afterwards. “I allowed myself to think about what I’m grateful for, and I’ve got a long list.”

amy olson at the 2023 us womens open
Amy Olson, seven months pregnant, at the 2023 U.S. Women’s Open. Getty Images

Her post-round grace wasn’t surprising to Johnson. Even in college, Olson had an uncanny ability to stay grounded and have perspective. The only time he ever had to console her, he said, was when she accidentally locked the team van’s keys in the trailer, which delayed their arrival home by about an hour.

“Everything mattered to her, but it didn’t really have this overwhelming affect on her life,” Johnson said. “I think that’s partly why she’s able to make this decision to step away because she’s got these other things she wants to do.”

Olson never won in her 196 career LPGA starts, but her little victories — sometimes the most important ones — were there if you looked for them. In the grace she showed in defeat, in her positive outlook, in her perspective and strength in her faith.

When she lost the Evian she said she was disappointed but made no excuses. “I hit every shot, I committed to every shot, I did everything I could, and double bogeys happen,” she said.

And when she came up short at the U.S. Women’s Open, she talked about being vulnerable, how she felt weak and helpless, and again made no excuses. “I really believe the Lord just carried me through,” she said. “It just makes you realize how much bigger life is than golf. But pleased with my finish overall and my performance.”

“I think people forget professional athletes are just people, and we walk through the exact same things everybody else does,” Olson says over the phone. “It’s just sometimes you have a camera on you when you are doing it, and I think I have always recognized the weight of that. You go through tragedy, disappointment and walk through different life stages in front of fans and friends and family, maybe on a bigger stage than some people, but it’s no different than what everyone goes through.”

Olson missed the cut in her last start on the LPGA Tour, but it might have also been her most memorable. Last summer, she made it through qualifying to play in the U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links. She played seven months pregnant.

Carrying Carly, Olson made national headlines and shot 79-77 in her first-ever trip to Pebble. It was a notable send-off — one final tournament on a bucket-list course in front of family and in an event that was special to her. The U.S. Women’s was also the first pro event she ever played, back when she qualified in college (she was T2 after the first round).

“And I think being able to do it while pregnant was this really sweet connection of my past and also my future,” Olson says.

In this new phase in life, Olson isn’t worried about what’s next; she’s enjoying the slower pace. She has an accounting degree and already passed her CPA exam her rookie year on tour, but she also earned $2.6 million on the course. (“I’m very home-focused, and that to me is the most important thing I can possibly do right now,” she says.) Besides being a full-time mom, she also volunteers and has a ton of family and friends in the area. Her husband has a busy job, too; he’s the defensive coordinator for the NDSU football team. They plan to have more children, and Olson would like to homeschool them, just as she was brought up.

Carly is now 7 1/2 months old, down to three naps a day and crawling. She can pull herself up these days and she’s becoming more mobile, keeping her parents on alert. She’s still fast asleep in the car. She and Mom are headed to the next destination.

Josh Berhow

Golf.com Editor

As GOLF.com’s managing editor, Berhow handles the day-to-day and long-term planning of one of the sport’s most-read news and service websites. He spends most of his days writing, editing, planning and wondering if he’ll ever break 80. Before joining GOLF.com in 2015, he worked at newspapers in Minnesota and Iowa. A graduate of Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minn., he resides in the Twin Cities with his wife and two kids. You can reach him at joshua_berhow@golf.com.

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