The San Francisco breeze, tree-lined fairways, firm greens, thick rough, dramatic elevation changes and uneven lies are some of the features that make The Olympic Club so challenging.
Holes bend in one direction, while fairways slope toward the other.
The rough just off the fairway is penal. An errant tee shot that missed the short grass by more than just a few yards would fully submerge in ankle-high grass.
The Olympic Club finally got to Lexi Thompson late on Sunday afternoon at the 76th US Women’s Open. She made double bogey on No. 11 after driving her ball into the rough, precipitating the dwindling of her lead. Despite a bogey on No. 14, Thompson merely needed circles on the card at either of the back-nine par 5s, Nos. 16 and 17, to hang on to win her second major title.
Instead, after a disappointing par on No. 16, she pulled her tee shot on the rough on the 17th hole. In her two-question, agent-dissolved post-round news conference, Thompson said her tee shot on No. 17 found a lie as bad as she had ever seen. Despite the bogey, however, Thompson still had a chance to win on the home hole.
On No. 18, Thompson misclubbed, with her second shot falling short into the front bunker. Thompson said the wind caused the ball to balloon. After exploding to the putting surface in 3, she had to sink her first putt to remain co-leader, but she hit a second-consecutive critical putt too softly and never hit the hole.
Eventual winner Yuka Saso, playing fearless golf, nearly won in regulation with a tricky birdie putt before Thompson’s par miss. The crowd sitting in the natural amphitheater responded with one of its loudest gasps of the day.
In the playoff, after each contender made par on Nos. 9 and 18, the two-hole aggregate format changed to sudden death beginning again on the ninth hole. On the green in regulation, Saso’s opponent, Nasa Hataoka, hit a lag putt to within a few feet, opening the door for Saso to make a winding birdie putt to capture her first major and tie Inbee Park as the youngest winner in the championship’s history.
When Saso clinched victory, a majority of the crowd still surrounded the 18th green. Saso did not enjoy a deafening roar that would have likely erupted had she closed the deal with a birdie with fans seated in the amphitheater surrounding the green, offering beautiful views of San Francisco.
This US Women’s Open had three diverging storylines in the Sunday final grouping: Thompson’s faltering finish, Saso’s gutsy win and a 17-year-old who won over the golf world.
Megha Ganne brightened the golf world with her authenticity and stellar play. After posting a 72 on Saturday to earn a spot in the final grouping on Sunday, she said of the round: “I wish it weren’t over so quickly.”
When I asked Ganne’s father on Sunday how he felt relative to the first three rounds, he said “less relaxed” because she was so close to capturing low-amateur honors, a recognition that comes with future tournament exemptions.
Although Ganne shot 77 on Sunday to finish T-14, she managed to earn the silver medal.
Ganne kept the tone light all week and may have indirectly helped her friend Saso hoist the trophy. On the 14th tee, Ganne told Saso that she sensed birdies on the horizon for the 19-year-old Filipino. Saso rallied with birdies on Nos. 16 and 17 to claim a share of the lead.