"I'm ecstatic to be here," said Shean. "I didn't expect to be here and I'm just really thankful."
Shean, a rising senior at the University of Arkansas, shot a one-under 70, despite making bogey on her last hole (No. 9). The 22-year-old wears hearing aids in both ears and was apparently oblivious to the grandness of the stage she was playing on. Even when she drove it into the left rough on No. 9, she laughed and laughed with her caddie, Chandler Rackley, who's also a senior at Arkansas and doubles as her boyfriend.
"I'm just keeping calm, having a good time out there," said Shean. "This course is hard. If you're going to get mad over a couple of three-putts or a bad bounce, then I don't think you're going to enjoy it as much. I had a couple of three-putts today out there, and I was expecting that. So the whole time I was just trying to have a good time and taking the experience."
Indeed, the only time Shean seemed to get flustered all day was when she found out that Ernie Els had been watching her play. (Els, coincidentally, won his first major at Oakmont in 1994.)
"That's kind of unbelievable," said Shean, who joined the Ernie Els & Fancourt Foundation five years ago and credits it for helping her become an international player. "Being able to interact with [Els] and have any kind of relationship with [him] is unbelievable. And so I was totally not expecting him to do that. And then I heard it and was like, 'Oh, my gosh. That is so crazy.' I just hope that he's happy that everything that he pushed me into actually helped my get here."
Shean's uncle, Clive, and father, Stephen, made the 19-hour trek from Cape Town, South Africa, to watch Kelli play this week. Clive was Kelli's first teacher, and Stephen, couldn't contain his excitement all day (with a South African flag sticking out of his backpack, he was hard to miss). His powerfully close relationship with Kelli is immediately apparent, and it was hard for him to part ways with her three years ago, when he dropped her off at Arkansas.
"It was the hardest thing ever," he said after her round. He then told us he ducked out of town in the middle of the night because he knew he'd cry too much otherwise. "I'm still getting used to it."
Kelli, too, was upset.
"Saying good bye to him in Arkansas? I felt sick. It's never really cool to leave your family like that. It's been the hardest thing that I've ever done, but I get to see them every now and again. Thank goodness for Skype."
What was especially helpful during today's first round was having Rackley, her boyfriend of 10 months, on her bag.
"He's just made me love life so much more than everything," said Shean. "He's caddied for me a couple of times, and I haven't lost anything with him on my bag. And I have the best time of my life out there."
Here's to hoping she'll be able to shake off the pressure during tomorrow's morning round.