Laura Davies never played in a major championship as an amateur. That would have been the same for most players in her era. There are 24 amateurs in this week’s U.S. Women’s Open.
Most don’t look phased by the experience. Indeed, most fit right in at the Champions Club in Houston, Texas. There are six in the top 24 at even par or better after the opening round.
Sweden’s Linn Grant, ranked fifth on the World Amateur Golf Ranking, leads the amateur contingent on 2-under in a tie for fifth. Former world number one and current number three Pauline Roussin-Bouchard is on 1-under in 12th place in a tie with world number 14 Maja Stark of Sweden and American Amelia Garvey, who is 25th on the WAGR table.
Could this be the year an unpaid player joins France’s Catherine Lacoste, the only woman to win a major championship? Lacoste won the 1967 U.S. Women’s Open. Considering how many amateurs now tee it up in the blue-chip events, it’s perhaps surprising we’re still waiting for the second.
Amateur number one Rose Zhang, the reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, professed to being a bit star struck before the tournament began.
“Every time I am on the (practice) putting green, I see someone I look up to so much,” she said.
Maybe so, but it didn’t stop her from contending in the previous women’s major, the ANA Inspiration. The 17 year old, who is T55 in Houston after a 2-over 73, took low amateur honours with a T11 finish. She beat out Australian Gabby Ruffels. Ruffels, who finished runner-up to Zhang in the U.S. Women’s Amateur. Ruffels finished T15 in the ANA. She is at level par in a tie for 24th place after the opening round of the U.S. Women’s Open.
Five of the six amateurs made the cut in the ANA Inspiration, including world number six Emilia Migliaccio. No wonder she predicted:
“I definitely think a lot of amateurs will be up there this week. We proved ourselves quite well in the ANA.”
Not such a bold prediction considering the number of amateurs who now play in major championships. Ruffels and Zhang are playing in their fourth. No wonder Ruffels said before the championship:
“It’s not as overwhelming.”
Eighteen of the 24 amateurs are still in college. Nineteen are 21 or under. Eight haven’t reached 20.
No wonder there are so many players in their 20s playing on the LPGA Tour and Ladies European Tour. No wonder many players on victorious Curtis Cup teams can’t celebrate with an alcoholic drink.
In fact, teenagers often can’t celebrate winning professional tournaments with an alcoholic drink. Lydia Ko (pictured) was just a 14 when she won the 2014 NSW Open, becoming the youngest person to win a professional golf tournament. Brooke Henderson had three professional wins on the Canadian Women’s Tour before her 17th birthday.
Often the race for low amateur is a nice side plot in a major championship. This week a few could be in the race to win the tournament. Is Lacoste’s 53-year reign as the only amateur to knock off a women’s major about to end?
It’s going to be interesting to find out.
#JustSaying: ““As an industry, I think we need to talk about the benefits of golf for women. Maybe from the health perspective. Maybe from the mental perspective. Maybe from a social perspective.” Annika Sorenstam at the recent Virtual Women’s Leadership Forum