Minjee Lee’s bid for a breakthrough major championship remains intact after a slightly nervous start to her US Women’s Open tilt today.
Among mixed results for the seven Aussie women competing at the Country Club of Charleston, Lee was best placed after a day in which some lesser-known names stood tall.
Lee, who could become world No.1 with victory this week, began brightly enough on the 10thand was soon one under after a birdie on the par-four 12th.
But a bogey on the 13th was later followed by two more on the third and fourth holes as the West Australian stumbled to two over.
Highlighted by a wonderful approach to the par-four seventh, Lee hit back with three late birdies to finish at even par, six shots back from surprise first-round leader Mamiko Higa.
Higa’s six-under-par 65 was the lowest debut score by any player in championship history and good enough for a one-stroke lead.
Higa, 25, leads by one over Esther Henseleit, 20, of Germany, who was also making her first start in the Women’s Open, and amateur Gina Kim, 19, who finished her round eagle-birdie.
Two strokes back and alone in fourth at 67 is ISPS Handa Vic Open champion Celine Boutier, of France, who missed the cut in her only two previous Women’s Open starts, in 2014 and 2015.
There have only been three lower first-round scores in US Women’s Open history than Higa’s; Helen Alfredsson shot 63 in 1994, and Mirim Lee (2016) and Kelli Kuehne (1999) opened with 64s. Juli Inkster in 1999 has the only other opening round of 65.
“My putting speed matched with my putting style, that was really the key,” said Higa, who hit 15 greens and jump-started her round with a hat-trick of birdies from the third.
Higa, who is married to professional sumo wrestler Ikioi Shota, is a two-time Japan Women’s Amateur champion who has won five times on the LPGA of Japan Tour since turning professional in 2012. Her best previous finish in a major is a tie for fourth at last year’s Women’s British Open.
Henseleit reached the championship field as an alternate after losing a playoff at a sectional qualifier in England. She has had eight top-10 finishes in her past 10 starts on the Ladies European Tour and the ALPG Tour in Australia.
Kim holed an 8-iron pitch for eagle on the par-4 eighth, her 17th hole, then barely missed her 5m eagle try on the par-5 ninth. Her 66 matched Brittany Lincicome as the low round by an amateur in US Women’s Open history.
Katherine Kirk was in early trouble with four bogeys in her first seven holes after starting on the 10th.
But the veteran Queenslander recovered late to finish at two over par, eight from the lead.
Victorian amateur Gabi Ruffels, on her major championship debut, was remarkably calm early and turned in one over after also starting on the 10th tee.
But the USC student’s second-nine card was far more colourful with two birdies and five bogeys as she closed with a 75, alongside fellow Melburnian Su Oh.
Perth’s Hannah Green, also on US Women’s Open debut, and New South Welshwoman Sarah Kemp have work to do after each carded 76, while former champ Karrie Webb, remarkably in her 24th consecutive US Women’s Open, closed with consecutive birdies but carded a 77.