McFeely: Weather, Olson's late stumble shake 'Amy's Army'
CHASKA, Minn. — The sunny skies turned to clouds, which led to wind that eventually became light rain. That was followed by heavier rain and falling temperatures. The army that turned out in force to watch Amy Olson play in the KPMG Women's PGA Championship shrunk accordingly as her round wore on.
By the end, as she strode up No. 9 — her final hole because she started on the 10th — "Amy's Army" was more like a rag-tag band of soaked soldiers, disheartened by the wretched weather and a late triple-bogey by Olson that turned a potentially promising round into what is likely to become a scramble to make the cut in her backyard major championship.
"The army has dwindled," said Matt Johnson, Olson's coach at North Dakota State who was one of the hearty few to stick with the Oxbow, N.D., resident's gallery. "But I can't blame them. This is miserable."
Johnson made his comment as Olson was playing No. 7, her 16th hole. By this time the cold rain was falling heavily and it was clear the last few holes for Olson and the other golfers playing in her threesome, Joanna Coe and Alison Lee, was going to be a grind.
It was, particularly for Olson. The opportunity to post a solid first-round score at the women's major championship Thursday, June 20, turned instead into a so-so finish.
Playing rock-solid on a difficult course in rough conditions, she stood on the eighth tee (her 17th) at 2 over par. With only a handful of players under par, a strong finish by Olson would've put her in good shape for Friday's second round. But she pushed her iron tee shot on the 152-yard par 3 and her ball came up short of the angled green, bouncing off an embankment and into a water hazard.
That led to a triple-bogey and, after a par at the final hole, Olson posted a 5-over-par 77. What looked so promising for so long ended with a clunk.
"That was a bummer," she said after the round. "It kind of leaves a bad taste in my mouth at the end."
As is Olson's style, there was a smile on her face while she said this. She rightly said she only had two bad holes and was pleased how she played for the other 16. A double bogey on the par-3 13th hole was her only other poor hole.
"No complaints, other than I'd like two holes over," she said.
On a course that is playing 6,800 yards, advertised as the longest PGA Women's Championship test in history, Olson drove the ball straight and long (13 of 14 fairways, averaging 273 yards per drive) and hit 13 of 18 greens. While Olson made a handful of four- and five-foot putts to save pars, she missed four birdie putts inside 15 feet.
That was much to the chagrin of her followers, most decked out in light blue "Amy's Army" T-shirts provided for free by Fargo-based Bell Bank. Each time one of Olson's birdie putts slid past the hole, they groaned as if in great pain.
"If a crowd could will them in, mine would've been going in," Olson chuckled.
Olson, Coe and Lee easily had the largest band of followers, at least through the first 10 holes until the weather changed dramatically. Then the wind began blowing upward of 20 miles per hour, which lasted a couple of holes until the rain started. The temperature dropped from 72 degrees to 62.
"It was fun to have everybody out there. They probably hung in there way longer I would've because it got really crummy at the end. It was fun," Olson said. "The best part was my long birdie putt on No. 4 and to hear the cheer when it went in. It was fun to give them something to cheer for finally."
Olson's lone birdie came on the 165-yard par 3 fourth hole. She hit a 5-iron to about 35 feet and rolled in the putt. When it dropped, on Olson's 13th hole of the day and more than three hours after she teed off, she punched both arms high in the air as her fans cheered.
Olson likely will be fighting to make the cut Friday, although given the conditions late Thursday afternoon scores will be trending higher. Hazeltine, tough enough in benign conditions, was getting tougher as the rain continued to fall. That's why the triple-bogey was so hard to stomach. A 74 would've given Olson a higher level of comfort heading into the second round.
"If I shoot under par tomorrow, I probably should be fine. Three-under would make me feel really good," Olson said.
It would also give Amy's Army a chance to show up in force again.
"I think it would be better for everybody if Amy could make the cut," said Hazeltine teaching pro Mike Barge, a Fargo South graduate. "That would make things even more fun around here for the weekend."