U.S. Women’s Open storylines: Thompson’s farewell tour, Korda’s quest and Zhang back in action


With its thick rough, notable changes in elevation and series of sloping greens, the Old Course at Lancaster Country Club presents quite the challenge for the 156-golfer field at this weekend’s U.S. Women’s Open, the second major championship of the LPGA season.

But to pros like 29-year-old Lexi Thompson, playing in what will be her 18th straight start at the Open, a difficult course like this is perfect for tournaments of this magnitude.

“[It’s] super hilly, not the easiest of walks, but it’s a challenge as every major championship should be,” Thompson said.

Nelly Korda, the world’s No. 1 golfer, took her thoughts a step further on the Pennsylvania course that’s hosting the second U.S. Women’s Open in its 104-year history, calling it “a beast.”

“It’s going to test every aspect of your golf game, and even your mental game, because it’s a major championship,” Korda said. “You can get ahead of yourself, get lost in the moment. If you make a couple of mistakes here and there, sometimes it can get away from you.”

As the spotlight surrounds her once again this week, Korda will be looking to keep the course well within her grasp.

She headlines four storylines to watch this weekend:

Korda goes for second major win

Korda has appeared in eight events so far this season and won six of them. One of those victories came in the season’s only other major, the Chevron Championship in April.

Her string of wins also include her daring attempt at setting a new LPGA record. Korda came up just short of a historic sixth-straight tournament victory at the Cognizant Founders Cup in New Jersey three weeks ago, remaining tied with World Golf Hall of Famers Nancy Lopez and Annika Sorenstam at five in a row. At that tournament, Korda was simply overcome — like the rest of the field — by stellar play from Rose Zhang and Madelene Sagstrom.

Zhang and Sagstrom posted scores of 24-under and 22-under, respectively. No other golfer finished the tournament with double-digit strokes under par.

“Obviously I go into every week wanting to win, but there is a sense that sometimes that’s not realistic,” Korda said. “For me, I need to give 100 percent of myself every single day, not just my golf, but my family, my workouts, life outside of golf. For me, that’s the No. 1 thing.”

Before getting a few well-deserved days off last week, Korda picked up her sixth overall win, taking the Mizuho Americas Open, also in New Jersey.

“I don’t know how to explain it or how to phrase it right, but what Nelly is doing is not something that anyone can do,” Zhang said. “It’s so hard to win one tournament out here.

“I’m witnessing some crazy history, and it’s really, really inspiring to see her out here and play. She’s almost looking unfazed.”

An amateur-friendly event, the U.S. Women’s Open is often the tournament where the game’s eventual top pros begin their careers. So like other golfers in Lancaster this week, Korda has been nostalgic, reflecting on the first time she competed in the Open.

“This event, getting to play it as a 14-year-old back in the day, was where I realized that this was what I wanted to do for a living,” said Korda, who made the cut in her LPGA debut at the 2013 U.S. Women’s Open in Southampton, New York.

“I remember on [that] Sunday I hit a driver and it was a hole where if you make an eagle, there was a donation of a certain amount to a certain charity,” Korda continued. “I hit it like probably 10 feet and I sink the putt, and I got interviewed after. My quote was: ‘You’ve got to risk it for the biscuit.'”

Adjustments key for Zhang?

Following the mind-bogglingly low score she posted at the Cognizant Founders Cup in mid May, Zhang said a few recent tweaks led to that impressive play.

“I’ve been adjusting a little bit with just the overall game, fine-tuning some things in my swing,” Zhang said ahead of this week’s tournament. “I feel like the game is definitely trending in the right direction. And regardless of the results, there’s a lot of improvement from where my game stood before the prior two weeks.”

But Zhang’s mechanical adjustments may have only been part of the reason behind her win at Upper Montclair Country Club. She acknowledged her dad might deserve a little credit, too, after his pre-tournament comment that a 23-under had once won it.

“I was telling him that it was a different golf course, the Cognizant wasn’t always played there, and I didn’t even see 20-under happening,” Zhang said. “But apparently if you hit a lot of fairways, a lot of greens and you make some good putts, then you can get that number up there, and that’s exactly what Madelene and I were able to do.”

Zhang added that consistency was a hallmark of her play that week. After getting off to such a strong start leading the tournament with a 9-under opening round, she continued piling on birdies throughout the remainder of the tournament. She said her mission this week is to replicate that kind of consistency.

This will be Zhang’s first event in three weeks. An illness forced her to withdraw from the Mizuho Americas Open the week following her big win.

“Definitely I want to win this one pretty badly,” Zhang said. “It’s one of the most prestigious fields, most prestigious golf tournaments that the women’s game can play.”

Thompson’s farewell tour begins

On Tuesday, Thompson, a two-time Olympian and six-time competitor in the Solheim Cup, stunned the golf world with news that this will be her final season competing full time on the LPGA Tour.

“I’m taking it day by day right now,” Thompson said at a news conference Tuesday. “I’m not going to say yes or no on how many events I’ll play or if I do. I’m just going to take it day by day and see how I feel, especially going into next year. But I’m very content with this being my last full-time schedule year.”

In 2007, at 12 years old, Thompson made history as the youngest golfer to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open. Thompson’s record was later bested by Lucy Li, who qualified for the event at 11 years old in 2014.

Thompson said it was at that Open in Southern Pines, N.C., when she first believed she could play at a high level.

“At Pine Needles when I teed it up, I’m like, that’s when I realized I want to play against the best,” Thompson said. “It’s been an amazing journey. I’ve loved every bit of it. So to be able to tee it up on my eighteenth is unbelievable.”

On Tuesday, as Thompson fought back tears and jokingly chastised herself about not wanting to show emotion, the major champion and 11-time LPGA winner was asked if, when looking back, she could have foreseen the way the past 17 years played out.

“Gosh, at my first U.S. Women’s Open? No, I was not — well, I was trying to get over shaking there from being so nervous,” Thompson said. “Everything has exceeded my expectations of my career and the relationships I’ve built. I’m just so blessed and grateful for every single person and experience that I’ve had along this career.”

How will past winners fare?

Last summer saw the first U.S. Women’s Open at famed Pebble Beach in 72 years as Allisen Corpuz finally cracked through for her first tour win.

Corpuz is hoping to use her 9-under finish there as a springboard in her trophy defense this week.

“There’s a lot of confidence just knowing I’ve done it once,” Corpuz said. “So in theory, it should be easier to do it a second time.”

Corpuz said it has been nice to see how the exposure around her has grown in the months since her big win last year, and to see the massive photos and displays around Lancaster Country Club depicting her championship a year ago.

Also competing at this year’s tournament is the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open winner, In Gee Chun. Her win came during the tournament’s only other appearance on this course, and ultimately led to her developing a relationship with the local community.

The Korean-born golfer has established a foundation at the country club to help course staffers and their families reach their educational goals.

“I always appreciate if I can help the people, then they can help other people, too,” Chun said. “It’s so special to see who got the scholarship from my foundation.”

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