As you wake up on Wednesday, here's everything you need to know about the opening round of the women's Olympic golf tournament
A 5.8 magnitude earthquake shook off the coast of Japan Wednesday morning, two hours before Mone Iname had the honor of hitting the first tee shot in her home country to start the women’s Olympic tournament. The rumbling foretold the shakeout of the leader board to come as 22 players managed to finish under par during the first round at Kasumigaseki Country Club, where scalding heat took over as the dominant storyline by day’s end.
Sweden’s Madelene Sagstrom jumped out front with the only bogey-free round, shooting a five-under 66. However, it doesn't feel like a particularly safe lead, as the top five players in the world are all lurking nearby. No. 1 Nelly Korda sits a shot back, and No. 2 Jin Young Ko trails by two. Defending gold medalist Inbee Park, Sei Young Kim and Danielle Kang are three strokes behind at two under.
Chinese Taipei’s Wei-Ling Hsu’s got to five under through six holes and seemed to signal that Kasumigaseki Country Club could surrendering the birdies it gave up to the men last week. She couldn’t keep up the pace, making bogeys on three of her next seven to finish at two under, but she served as a looming reminder that birdies are out there in pursuit of a podium position. Here are four takeaways from Wednesday’s first round.
Sagstrom channels another Swede
Shortly before teeing off Wednesday, Sagstrom talked with the most outstanding golf talent to come out of her home country, Annika Sorenstam. Sorenstam flew over to Tokyo in her role as the president of the International Golf Federation after winning her debut at the U.S. Senior Women's Open Sunday. Sagstrom played under then Captain Sorenstam for the European side at the 2017 Solheim Cup, and the aura of Sorenstam’s most recent victory rubbed off on the 2020 Gainbridge LPGA Boca Rio champion.
“Having her [Sorenstam] as a resource and being able to call her a friend,” Sagstrom said, “it's quite incredible since I grew up playing golf watching her. She's like untouchable.”
Sagstrom credited strong ball-striking and a pristine short game for the bogey-free round in her Olympic debut. The 28-year-old liked the sightlines Kasumigaseki Country Club presented to her, giving a chance to keep her putter rolling.
“[I’m] very excited with the layout,” Sagstrom said. “It suits my eye, and the greens are rolling phenomenal, which works with my putting too. So it's phenomenal.”
Nelly Korda maintains World No. 1 form
Nelly Korda is one back after posting a four-under 67 that eased her Olympic nerves.
The top American player in the world and recent winner of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship put herself a shot off the lead with a four-under 67, putting herself in great position at the chance of matching Xander Schauffele and making it an American gold-medal sweep at the Tokyo Games. Following an up-and-down front nine with four birdies and two bogeys, Korda steadied herself for a clean closing side, posting two more birdies for a four-under 67 to sit tied for second.
Korda once again leaned on her father Petr Korda's advice in her approach this week and how to handle the anticipation of playing in the Olympics. But ultimately she knew she needed to experience things on her own for the first time to be able to help with the emotions.
“I kind of think like by now this is my fifth year on tour that I would hopefully kind of know how to handle these situations,” Korda said. “You learn the most from your own experience, it's really easy for someone else to tell you how it's going to be or how you should handle situations, but everyone else handles situations differently.”
Lag putting was the lone blemish of Korda's game Wednesday, as her first putts made Korda labor for pars at Kasumigaseki Country Club. She worked on her putting after cooling off following her post-round interview.
The rest of the U.S team is following Korda’s lead. Danielle Kang sits at two under in a tie for seventh, Jessica Korda finished T-23 at even par, and Lexi Thompson is T-36 at one over.
No. 200 sits T-2, but don’t be shocked
India's Aditi Ashok is matching the impressive start to the Olympics she had in Rio in 2016, this time with her mom caddieing for her.
On paper, you wouldn’t expect Aditi Ashok of India to be in contention at the Olympics, the 23-year-old shooting a four-under 67 for a share of second place. She’s never won on the LPGA, and at 200th in the Rolex Rankings, she doesn't hold a body of work of being in contention on tour. Before Ashok's T-3 while playing with Pajaree Anannarukarn at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational last month, her best finish on the LPGA was a T-6 at the 2018 Volunteers of America Classic. And while she has three titles on the Ladies European Tour, the most recent was four years ago at the 2017 Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Open.
But something about the Olympics seems to connect with Ashok. She was three behind the lead after the first round at Rio in 2016, and four back through the first 36 holes. The then 18-year-old inspired India with her Olympic play, driving people by the millions to Google for golf clubs. Her play shows the possibility of what being an Olympic sport can do for golf in a nation where the game has room for growth, and Ashok recognizes the potential she has to help inspire others.
“It's important for little girls back home to have that image of a golfer internationally on the LPGA or at the Olympics,” Ashok said, “And not just participating but also kind of contending here and there.”
Outside of the experience that comes with age, the other big difference for Ashok this week is her caddie. Her father carried her bag in 2016, and her mom is caddieing this week.
Trying to beat the heat
Ireland's Stephanie Meadow uses an umbrella to shelter from the heat during Round 1.
Getting around Kasumigaseki Country Club the past few days has been no easy accomplishment thanks to the stifling heat. While conditions were toasty during the men’s tournament, the heat index rose to a scalding 110 degrees during Round 1, forcing players to be conscious of staying hydrated and finding as much shade as they could between holes.
“You get so sick of water,” Nelly Korda said. “After [drinking a lot of water] I'm like, I don't want to see water, give me some juice.”
The scorching heat may have been hardest on the caddies. U.S. Women’s Open champ Yuka Saso’s caddie Lionel Matichuk was rushed to the hospital during Tuesday’s practice round due to heatstroke. On Wednesday the heat nearly caused Lexi Thompson’s looper, Jack Fulghum, to pass out. He withdrew after the 15th hole after asking Thompson if he looked sick.
“He just asked me, ‘Do I look white to you?’” Thompson said. “And I’m like, I didn’t really notice, but, he just didn’t look good.”
Thompson told him to sit down for the rest of the way. Team USA assistant Donna Wilkins, who last played on the LPGA in 2006 and currently works for the tour as a director of player services, stepped up as Thompson’s caddie for the rest of the round. The 26-year-old birdied three of her last four holes to finish at one-over 72.
“The straps were a little off,” Wilkins said, “But it was all good. I was glad to be able to jump in and help.”
Donna Wilkins carried the bag for Lexi Thompson on the 18th hole after Thompson's regular caddie Jack Fulghum had to come off the course due to the oppressive heat.
It’s unclear if Wilkins, Fulghum or a local caddie will loop for Thompson in round two.
“I was so worried about him and, I mean, it's so hot out there," Thompson said. "I'm from Florida and I'm still not used to that bad of heat. But I just hope that he's OK and he gets the hydration he needs, the nutrients tonight to go into the next few days. If not, I'll figure something else out. I just want him to be healthy.”
Meanwhile, a different kind of weather may impact the remainder of the women’s golf competition. After play concluded, the Golf Channel reported that the International Golf Federation has sent a notice to players that due to heavy thunder storms expected at Kasumigaseki Country Club Saturday and Sunday, the tournament may cut to 54 holes. Alternatively, there is the potential that golfers could play more than 18 holes on Thursday or Friday, but due to the unrelenting heat, the health officials are concerned about attempting that.