Photo courtesy of LPGA
Australia’s "quiet achiever" Sarah Jane Smith will wake up in Birmingham Alabama on Saturday morning and find herself in rare air, holding a four-shot lead at the 73rd US Women’s Open. Smith's previous best finish on the LPGA Tour was back in 2014 when she finished in a tie for second at the Kingsmill Championship, now she has put herself in with a legitimate chance not only to claim her first LPGA victory but to become the third Australian woman to win a major championship and the first since Karrie Webb's win at the Nabisco Championship back in 2006.
Smith was one of the early starters on Friday morning, and started as she had finished off on Thursday playing the back nine at Shoal Creek first in 31, with birdies at the 11th, 12th, 13th, 16th and 18th holes to be 10 under par for the tournament through 27 holes.
Another birdie at the par 5 third hole was offset with a disappointing three-putt bogey at the par 3 8th hole, and after holing a tricky par putt on her final hole Smith signed off on her second consecutive round of 67.
Australians currently hold the top two spots on the leaderboard at the end of the day's play, with 22-year-old Victorian Su Oh moving up to second place at six-under par after a four under par 68, tied with Thai former world number one Ariya Jutanugarn.
Smith, currently ranked 97th on the Rolex Women's World rankings has drawn strength this week from her great friend Pernilla Lindberg’s major win at the ANA Inspiration in March which was also her first LPGA Victory. Smith does have two professional wins to her credit, the most recent coming back in 2008 on the LPGA Futures Tour.
“Well, I haven't been in the position before, I but I hope to show up like it's another day,’’ said Smith, a Geelong native who grew up playing golf on the Sunshine Coast.
“I'm happy with the way I'm playing. I feel comfortable on the greens which has been something that has been a little bit off lately. So it's nice to be able to feel like I'm seeing the greens really well and seeing some putts go in. Hopefully, that keeps going.’’
Smith and her husband Duane, who has been her caddy throughout her professional career are one of the few married couples on the LPGA Tour who have, so far at least, stood the test of time as player and caddy “Duane is probably one of calmest people I know, and I don't get crazy out there,’’ she said. “I think between the two of us, we stay relatively calm generally.’’
The normally super consistent Queenslander had had a disappointing start to the 2018 season, and after five missed cuts made an unschedules trip back to her US base in Orlando and put an old set of Ping irons and hybrids, a TaylorMade driver and a Callaway three wood back in her bag this week. So far they seem to be working treat.
After missing the cut at the Kingsmill Championship two weeks ago Smith made contact with her coach Sean Foley. “I sent him a text message on Sunday and I said, ‘I don't know what I'm doing. I'm playing well, and it's just not sort of coming together’. I said, ‘Is there a book or something I can read?’ He always has a good thing to say to keep you on track."
“He called me on Monday. And he's like, ‘there is no book, you idiot. Keep showing up, it's going to turn around’. He just kind of set me straight.’’
Oh’s performance, coming off a fourth-place finish last week at the LPGA Volvik Championship, is equally-encouraging for a player in her third season on tour. The Victorian, now coached by Jordan Spieth’s instructor Australian Cam McCormick, carded a 68 to go with her opening 70.
Like Smith, Oh has never won on the LPGA Tour but did win the Australian Masters in just her second appearance as a professional as a teenager back in 2015. “Probably see how I feel tomorrow, but I don't feel uncomfortable,’’ she said.
Commenting on her compatriots superb scoring Oh said “We were looking at the leaderboard, saying Sarah is very greedy, just taking all the birdies. But because the course is soft, if you hit your irons well and trust that you have good numbers, you can definitely go low. I wasn’t hitting my irons amazing but wasn’t that far off, either. So it’s definitely out there.”
Of the other Australians, Minjee Lee made a disappointing start to her round being two over par for the day through 6 holes and has some work to do sitting in a tie for 38th place 12 shots off the lead.
Katherine Kirk and Karrie Webb are both hovering on the cut line at +4 in a tie for 60th, and have their work cut out when play resumes tomorrow to make it through to the weekend. Sarah Kemp's disappointing week continued and unfortunately she will not be around for the weekend.
Round 2 was suspended for the day at 7:22 pm on Friday evening, and will recommence at 6:45 am local time on Saturday morning, with some players having only completed 3 holes of their second round.
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