Rose Zhang is the top female amateur in the world
While Catherine Lacoste remains the only amateur to have won a U.S. Women’s Open, recent history shows the Frenchwoman might have some company soon.
At least one amateur has finished in the top-15 in each of the last five U.S. Women's Opens and dating back to 2000, a total of 10 amateurs have recorded top-five finishes.
Just last year at the Olympic Club in San Francisco
, Megha Ganne
, a 17-year-old high school junior from Holmdel, New Jersey shared the first-round lead with England’s Mel Reid to become the first amateur in 15 years to have a share of the lead after any of the rounds of a U.S. Women’s Open. Ganne played her way into the final group on Sunday along with Lexi Thompson and eventual champion Yuka Saso and ultimately tied for 14th overall.
In 2020 at Champions Golf Club in Houston, Kaitlyn Papp, then a senior at the University of Texas, was in the top-10 after each of the first three rounds before ultimately tying for ninth overall at 3-over 287. Gabriela Ruffels (t-13), who was the reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion and Arizona State sophomore Linn Grant (t-23rd), joined Papp and Maja Stark inside the top-25.
Grant also contended in 2018 at Shoal Creek where the young Swede was just tied for seventh heading into the weekend. Another amateur, Patty Tavatanakit, closed with rounds of 72-71 to tie for fifth with Lexi Thompson.
With three holes left in the 2017 U.S. Women's Open at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, NJ, decorated Korean amateur Hye-Jin Choi was tied with eventual winner Sung Hyun Park before her tee shot found the water on the 139-yard 16th hole leading to a double bogey.
Canadian Brooke Henderson tied for 10th as an amateur at the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open won by Michelle Wie at Pinehurst. Maria Jose Uribe of Colombia tied for 10th at Interlachen in 2008 and two years earlier, Amanda Blumenherst and Jane Park tied for 10th at Newport Country Club.
In 2005, 17-year-old amateur Morgan Pressel stood in the middle of the 18th fairway at Cherry Hills in suburban Denver tied for the lead, only to see Birdie Kim hole out an improbable shot from a greenside bunker just ahead of her to secure a one-stroke lead and ultimately, the U.S. Open title. Pressel finished tied for second with another amateur, Brittany Lang. Not to be forgotten, Michelle Wie, then 15, was tied the 54-hole lead heading into the final round before dropping down the leaderboard on Sunday.
Aree Song finished fifth in 2003 at Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon and in 1999, Grace Park tied for eighth at Old Waverly, where Juli Inkster claimed her first of two U.S. Open championships.
And who can forget Jenny Chuasiriporn, who had just completed her third year at Duke, cupping her mouth in disbelief after she rolled in a 40-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to force a playoff with Se Ri Pak at the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wis. It took a long birdie putt by Pak on the 20th playoff hole the next day to win her first of five major championships in a hall of fame career.
Of the 30 amateurs in this year’s U.S. Women’s Open field at Pine Needles, six are ranked in the top-50 of the Women’s World Golf Rankings (WAGR), including world No. 1 Rose Zhang
of Stanford, who is just two weeks removed from winning the NCAA women’s individual title, one of her four wins as a freshman. Now 19, the two-time USGA champion will be competing in her fourth U.S. Women's Open.
Included among the amateurs are three 15-year-olds – Kylee Choi
, Jeonghyun Lee and Minsol Kim
-- who were born in 2007 — the last time the Women's Open was played at Pine Needles.
Related: Meet the amateurs at this year's U.S. Women's Open
So what’s with these kids today?
“These young players have so much better instruction than ever before starting at a very early age and by the time they have the opportunity to play in a marquee event like the U.S. Open they’re fully prepared, whether they came through qualifying or earned an exemption, said two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Kay Cockerill, who will be on the grounds at Pine Needles as an on-course commentator for NBC. “They are just so much more mature and every aspect of their game is so much better.”
“I’ve seen a lot more shot variety among amateurs than ever before,” said GOLF Channel’s Paige Mackenzie, who was the third-lowest amateur at the memorable 2005 U.S. Women’s Open at Cherry Hills, where she tied for 13th overall. “They have a much larger tool kit at a young age which I think it’s due to the fact they have a lot more rounds under their belts at an early age. They are playing a lot more golf rather than just hitting balls.”
Not surprisingly, young players are also taking full advantage of the massive strides in technology over the years.
“Technology has also changed a lot in the last 15-20 years,” said Mackenzie. “There’s been so much advancement in instruction and understanding of the why and how a ball does a certain thing. Data has changed the game and these young players have much more of an understanding of why and how than ever before. It’s been revolutionary.”
While the line between professionals and elite amateurs seems to be getting thinner each year, both Mackenzie and Cockerill think the right amount of naivete can be an asset to young players competing in women’s golf’s biggest event for the first time.
“They don’t seem overwhelmed by the golf course or the stage they’re on because they are just trying to play well,” said Mackenzie. “Amateurs go out with nothing to lose and everything to gain and play with little downside risk. Sometimes it pays off, but you’ll also see an occasional 85, too.
“There’s a bit of a freewheeling attitude when others might be trying to play more defensively. To some extent, ignorance is bliss.”
Said Cockerill, “They’re fearless and not intimidated by the big stage. They’re not timid and come out believing they are going to play well. They don’t have any preconceived notions. Take Anna Davis
, for example. She won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur
and never watched the Masters. She had such a calmness about her it was almost like watching her play in a San Diego junior event. She wasn’t phased at all.”
While the odds still remain long for an amateur to hoist the Harton S. Semple Trophy come Sunday at Pine Needles, expect to see the familiar (a) notation after the name of more than one amateur who becomes a fixture on the leaderboard, whether it’s Zhang, Ingrid Lindblad
or an ultra-chill bucket hat-wearing high schooler who doesn’t know any better.
Kent Paisley of AmateurGolf.com contributed to this report.