by Erica Goodman and David Shefter, USGA
BETHLEHEM, PA (July 12, 2009)--For the second time in three years, Jennifer Song earned low-amateur honors at a U.S. Women’s Open. Only this time, Song didn’t have to share the achievement.
At Pine Needles in 2007, Song tied with Jennie Lee as the top amateur. At Saucon Valley Country Club, Song’s 7-over 291 total was two strokes better than teenagers Jessica Korda, 16, and Alison Lee, 14.
“It’s incredible,” said Song, who two weeks ago claimed the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links title. “I can’t describe it in words. I’m really thankful for what I have achieved.”
Her showing at Saucon Valley had a hint of déjà vu. When Song tied for low amateur in 2007, the championship’s winner was Cristie Kerr. This week Kerr held the 54-hole lead, but a final-round 75 dropped her to third place behind surprise champion Eun-Hee Ji.
Song will compete in two Duramed Futures Tour events before heading to Old Warson Country Club in St. Louis for the U.S. Women’s Amateur in early August. It will be her third USGA championship of the year and equally as challenging.
“I need to keep myself sharp,” said Song “[The USGA] always makes the players work really hard to get a good score. We need to be focused from the beginning to the end.”
Another Happy Ending
For the second consecutive year, Jessica Korda carded a final-round 69 at the Women’s Open. Her 2008 finish was the only sub-70 round on Sunday and earned her a tie for 19th, giving her an exemption into this year’s championship.
The lanky teen, whose father, Petr, won the 1998 Australian Open in tennis, was not bashful in her final battle with the Old Course. With tee markers moved up to 256 yards on the par-4 15th hole, Korda’s aggressive drive to the green rewarded her with an eagle-2, the only eagle produced on Sunday.
Korda returns to the USGA stage in just over a week, where she will join Lee and defending champion Alexis Thompson for the U.S. Girls’ Junior at Trump National Golf Club in nearby Bedminster, N.J.
A Pairing of Old and New
by Stuart Hall as a special to the USGA
Juli Inkster did her homework just in case, while Alexis Thompson knew only that the 49-year-old Inkster was on the LPGA.
“I heard that she had won two U.S. Women's Opens when they announced her on the first tee,” the 14-year-old Thompson said. “I said, ‘Wow, she’s really good.’ ”
Inkster and Thompson were paired for Sunday’s final round at the 64th U.S. Women’s Open at Saucon Valley Country Club’s Old Course, and no other group had an age-gap larger than the 35 years that separated these two players.
While there was no time for chit-chat other than pleasantries for good shots and putts, Inkster said she was prepared to converse with Thompson, who is younger than Inkster’s own daughters, Hayley, 19, and Cori, 15.
“I was all ready … the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus,” Inkster said. “I asked my 15 year old, ‘What can we talk about?' ”
Despite being out of contention and the spotlight, Inkster and Thompson still put on quite a show.
Inkster set a single-digit over par total as her goal, while Thompson wanted to give her father, Scott, who was also her caddie, a sub-par round on his birthday.
Inkster, playing her 27th Women’s Open, rolled in a 50-foot birdie on the 72nd hole to shoot 1-under 70 and finish at 9-over 293. Thompson carded a 2-over 73 to finish at 11-over 295 in her first full Women’s Open after two previous missed cuts.
Though the pair went out at 10:10 a.m., well before the names on the leaderboard, Inkster -- the 1999 and 2002 Women’s Open champion -- and Thompson drew a large and appreciative gallery. They both received warm welcomes walking up the 72nd fairway.
Inkster was impressed with the up-and-comer, but also cannot imagine being on this international stage at such a tender age.
“She’s a really good player,” said Inkster. “She certainly has the talent, and now we’ll see how she progresses and gets further into the game, and see if she still has the passion for it.”
Inkster said she preferred playing basketball, baseball and tagging along with her younger brothers when she was Thompson’s age and didn’t take golf seriously until about age 16.
From there, Inkster, of Los Altos, Calif., went on to become a three-time winner of the U.S. Women’s Amateur, member of the USA Curtis Cup team, LPGA Rookie of the Year, 31-time LPGA winner and seven-time member of the USA Solheim Cup team. Not to mention a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Asked if she gave Thompson any lessons from her storied career, Inkster just laughed.
“I don’t think she wanted any of my wisdom,” she said. “She’s doing fine as she is.”
Thompson, of Coral Springs, Fla., became the youngest qualifier for a Women’s Open two years ago and is the defending U.S. Girls' Junior champion — a title she seeks to win again starting next Monday at Trump National in Bedminster, N.J. Still, she was a little wide-eyed at Inkster’s accomplishments.
“That would be pretty cool,” said Thompson of some day matching Inkster’s feats. “The crowd loves her, she’s a great player. I can’t imagine playing that long, who knows. But that she’s still playing that well, for so long. That’s great.”
Thompson may have gotten more than she bargained for at this U.S. Women’s Open. She got a history lesson, as well.
Father Knows Best
As 14-year-old amateur Alison Lee approached the 18th tee, she quickly noticed the markers had been moved up 56 yards to make the hole play 388 yards. Knowing she needed a par on the final hole to finish one under for the day, Lee wavered between using driver and 3-wood. She was worried about finding the right bunker.
“My dad said, ‘Use the driver. It will be fine,’” said the Valencia, Calif., teen competing in her first U.S. Women’s Open. “He told me if you get in the bunker, I will give you $200 and I’ll roll down this hill.”
Lee, the youngest competitor to make the cut, laughed at her father’s gesture and went with driver. She took a mighty lash and still couldn’t reach the hazard. From there, she made her par and finished with a 1-under 70, tying 16-year-old Jessica Korda for low honors at 9-over 293 among the three juniors (17 and under) to make the cut. Alexis Thompson, 14, finished at 11-over 295.
“It was real exciting,” said Lee, who is 16 days younger than Thompson. “It was a lot of fun. I think I could have played better, but I am happy with one under here.”
Lee will play the McDonald’s Betsy Rawls Girls Championship this coming week in Malvern, Pa., before competing in the U.S. Girls’ Junior at Trump National in Bedminster, N.J., July 20-25. It will be Lee’s third appearance at the Girls’ Junior.