PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Pebble Beach was everything the best women golfers in the world imagined for the first U.S. Women’s Open with its raw beauty, marine layer and chill in the air.
For some of them, it was a sheer beast.
Xiyu Janet Lin and Hyo Joo Kim could soak up the scenery, each of them with a 4-under 68 on Thursday to share the lead after one round of a historic week on one of the most famous golf courses in America.
“We’re part of the history. It’s really cool,” Lin said. “I kind of told myself no matter what, this is going to be a memorable week.”
It was a forgettable start for Jin Young Ko, whose 79 was her worst U.S. Women’s Open score by four shots. And she had company. The top four players in the women’s world ranking combined to go 22-over par with Nelly Korda and Lydia Ko at 76 and Lilia Vu at 79.
Rose Zhang, the 20-year-old Stanford sensation who won in her pro debut last month, wasted a good start with a double bogey on the eighth hole that slowed her momentum. She played the final 10 holes in 2 over for a 74.
“I felt like the game in general was pretty solid. It was just the mishap on 8 that kind of turned my entire round a little bit,” Zhang said.
She didn’t make a birdie the rest of the way, and had to chip on her last four holes — one of them from the wrong side of the green on the par-3 17th just as Gary Woodland did in 2019 when he won the U.S. Open. She nearly holed it, a perfectly clipped wedge she had never tried in competition.
“Always something new,” Zhang said with a laugh.
Lin began her round on the tough par-4 10th hole, and she saved par on four of her opening five holes before holing an 8-foot birdie putt on the 15th. The Chinese player’s lone bogey came at the end when she failed to get up-and-down from short of a bunker on No. 9.
“At the beginning, putting definitely save me,” said Lin, who took only 25 putts and was leading the field in the key putting statistic. “Making those short putts really kind of boosted my confidence, making me feel more comfortable to attack when I needed to.”
Kim, whose lone major was the Evian Championship in 2014, was 4 under through eight holes until her lone bogey at No. 9. She made only one birdie the rest of the day, holing a 20-footer on the 17th that allowed her to catch Lin.
She was happy with her score and the location.
“I think I can brag about this, my opportunity to play at Pebble Beach,” Kim said.
Irish amateur Aine Donegan didn’t get her clubs until Tuesday — only to find her driver damaged — and had a 69 that included a wedge she holed out from 96 yards on the 15th. She was in a large group one shot behind that include the more notable Irish player, Leona Maguire, who birdied the 18th.
Maguire is coming off a tough loss two weeks ago in the Women’s PGA Championship at Baltusrol when she lost the 54-hole lead with a 74.
“I think when you’ve got another major coming up as quick as this was and at somewhere like Pebble, I think your focus shifts pretty quickly,” Maguire said. “Looking forward to another opportunity this week, hopefully.”
This has been among the most anticipated events of the year for women’s golf because of the location. Pebble Beach is the most iconic of U.S. Open venues, and the most recognizable with its seaside views on half of the holes.
Lin said she got the best advice from the person working on her clubs.
“He just told me, ‘Whatever hole you’re at, just take 30 seconds to look up at the view and you will be very grateful where you are.’ I think it’s absolutely right,” she said. “Yeah, even today when there was some stressful shots coming up, I just kind of tell myself how grateful I am to be actually hitting a shot on this hole.”
Jin Young Ko was already losing ground when she pulled her tee shot left and over the cliffs onto the beach at the par-3 17th, leading to double bogey. In 24 previous rounds in the U.S. Women’s Open, she never had worse than a 75.
She played with Korda, the No. 2 player in the world who missed the cut at the Women’s PGA two weeks ago. Korda began her big day at Pebble Beach by sending her opening drive over the cliff and onto the beach at No. 10 for a double bogey.
Lydia Ko hit a wild hook on the par-3 fifth hole and wound up with a quadruple-bogey 7 that sent her to a 76 and ruined an otherwise solid round.
Michelle Wie West and Annika Sorenstam are playing what likely will be their last U.S. Women’s Open, both drawn back by the lure of playing Pebble Beach. Both are likely to be leaving earlier than they wanted. Wie West shot 79 and Sorenstam had an 80.
Zhang holds the Pebble Beach record for women, a 63 last September at a college tournament. This is a different course, a stronger test. She made birdie putts at Nos. 3 and 4 and was as calm as the ocean until No. 8.
Her 4-hybrid tailed off to the right down a bank of thick grass, and she never found the ball and had to return to the fairway. It was a quick reminder that the U.S. Women’s Open was far different from college.
“Definitely very different,” she said. “Pin locations were tucked very close to the edges, and even if you do hit a great shot, sometimes you’re punished for going at the pin and being really aggressive. … And tees were longer, too. That minimizes your birdie chances. And even if you are playing solid golf, less birdies equal higher scores.”