Since Se Ri Pak won the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open and inspired a generation of young girls to take up the game of golf in South Korea, women’s golf has been dominated by those who followed in her footsteps. That wave of young girls arrived on the world stage with Inbee Park’s 2008 U.S. Women’s Open victory and since then only three Americans have won their national championship.
Can the U.S. players make it four Sunday? On Thursday, there was a sea of red, white and blue at the top of the leaderboard at the U.S. Women’s Open at Champions Golf Club in Houston. At one point, there were four Americans atop the leaderboard, and at day’s end it was North Dakota’s Amy Olson holding the solo lead.
Olson started on the back nine at the Cypress Creek Course on Thursday. The highlight of her round came at the par-3 16th hole, where she made a hole-in-one with an 8-iron from 141 yards. The ace became a springboard for Olson who was 1 over par before reaching the par 3. The hole-in-one was Olson’s second ace in competition and fifth of her career.
During the round, Olson played her way into a group of six players who were at one point tied for lead, but she broke out of the pack with two birdies on her inward nine to take the outright lead. She carded a 4-under 67.
“Obviously, the hole-in-one was kind of the highlight of the round. I was pretty excited to be able to do that at the U.S. [Women’s] Open,” Olson said Thursday. “I think it is important to enjoy the little things and the moments along the way and not kind of get ahead of yourself, so I just enjoyed the moment.”
That presence of mind, to take a step back in the midst of a major championship, to appreciate and enjoy a memorable moment like making an ace at a U.S. Women’s Open, is a glimpse into the perspective Olson has about her entire career.
Olson is a devout Christian who references Proverbs 3:5-6 on her Twitter account: Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
For Olson, that path has been a long and winding one for her since joining the LPGA. She looked poised for quick success after a decorated amateur career at North Dakota State University, where she broke the NCAA record set by Juli Inkster with 20 college victories. She won the U.S. Junior Amateur in her second appearance. But now, in her seventh season on the LPGA, Olson remains in search of her first win.
“Coming out here I expected to win really early. It always kind of came easy to me in college,” Olson said. “Coming out here, the play is absolutely fantastic. It’s not easy to win out here. You have to put four really good days together. And, so it has been, I think, a test of my patience.”
Olson has turned the challenge into a learning experience, a test of her faith. Perhaps one of the biggest tests came in 2018 when Olson suffered a disappointing loss at the Evian Championship, where she lost a one-stroke lead on the 72nd hole to Angela Stanford.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned is just perspective and what do I consider success, and at the end of my life it’s not going to be a number of tournaments that I’ve won, it’s how I live my life, so trying to maintain that perspective, I think, is really important for me,” she said.
Olson will have to hit the reset button Friday as she’ll switch from the Cypress Creek to the Jackrabbit Course for what is expected to be a wet and windy second round. The weather may be a welcome distraction for Olson, who also held the first-round lead in similar conditions at the AIG Women’s Open at Royal Troon in August. It was there that Sophia Popov, a player who endured her own long and winding journey, found major glory.
Perhaps now, it’s finally Olson’s turn.