SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Ha-Neul Kim noticed friend Inbee Park’s 5-under-par 67, which was good for the lead in the morning session at the U.S. Women’s Open, and wondered: “Wow, how did she shoot that score?”
Then Kim, who had an afternoon tee time and was playing in her first major, went out and shot one stroke better, playing a bogey-free round at Sebonack to take the first-round lead on Thursday.
Park, the world’s No. 1-ranked player, is trying to make history by winning the first three majors of the year. For a day at least, she was upstaged by a much less-heralded fellow South Korean.
“I’m enjoying myself,” Kim said through a translator. “I’m just happy to be here and to be playing in this big event. I’m not really thinking about winning or results but enjoying the moment.”
Currently a member of the KLPGA Tour, Kim is a seven-time winner in South Korea. She kept
giving herself short birdie putts Thursday and making them.
Kim birdied her second-to-last hole with daylight waning to claim the lead after Park held it for most of the day with her 67 in the morning session.
No player has won the first three majors in a season with at least four majors. The 2008 U.S. Women’s Open champion, Park has already won five times this year, including her last two tournaments.
American Lizette Salas, Swedes Caroline Hedwall and Anna Nordqvist and South Korea’s I.K. Kim shot 68.
Concerned about bad weather, tournament officials moved up the tees, and with the rain holding off, players were able to be aggressive.
“So instead of hitting like 5-irons, we were hitting 9-irons, and that was making the course much easier,” she said. “I was actually able to go for some pins and give myself a lot of opportunities today. I made a lot of putts and didn’t leave much out there.”
Chile’s Paz Echeverria, a 28-year-old LPGA Tour rookie also making her U.S. Women’s Open debut, and Canada’s Maude-Aimee Leblanc shot 69.
Among eight players at 70 was Natalie Gulbis, who withdrew from a tournament and missed two others earlier this year because of malaria. Infected by a mosquito during the LPGA Thailand in late February, she returned for the Kraft Nabisco in early April. Gulbis hasn’t finished better than 13th since, missing the cut at the LPGA Championship.
Defending champion Na Yeon Choi, second-ranked Stacy Lewis and 19-year-old amateur Kyung Kim from USC were among 11 players at 71.