PLAINFIELD, N.J., JULY 23 -- Anyone who could survive the achingly hot weather at the U.S. Women's Open today deserved a share of the lead. As it was, only six players broke par, most of them unrecognizable until the sweat was wiped away. Even then they were not necessarily familiar.
Bonnie Lauer and Dot Germain, two not-so-famous veterans, broke the Plainfield Country Club course record for women with 3-under-par 69s. That gave them a one-stroke lead over Kathy Postlewait. The previous course record was 71, set by Mickey Wright in 1962.
In a three-way tie at 71 were Ayako Okamoto of Japan, last season's rookie of the year Jody Rosenthal and another veteran, Sandra Palmer.
Former Open winner Amy Alcott headed a group of five players at par.
How hot was it? It was so hot your hair wilted and your teeth itched. So hot that Postlewait carried a parasol, and Germain wrapped a bandana soaked in ice water around her neck. So hot that Pat Bradley, last season's player of the year, shot an astonishing but understandable 81 and defending champion Jane Geddes wilted to a 3-over 75.
In short, those who broke par counted themselves lucky. The lead held by Lauer and Germain was a fragile one. As the day wore on, it became increasingly evident that their cooler morning rounds would be difficult to duplicate. Lauer's was the better of the two, a bogeyless, three-birdie affair.
"I'm just going to try not to pass out tomorrow," she said. "I would take even par and take my chances. It's going to be a little bit of a survival contest under these conditions."
Lauer accomplished her rounds with endless patience across the demanding, 6,284-yard course with swooping fairways, 89 bunkers and undulating greens made unpredictable by the 90-degree heat and humidity. She birdied the par-4 first hole with a 20-foot putt, the par-4 14th with a 10-footer and the par-3 15th with another 10-footer.
If Lauer is not the most glamorous of Open leaders, keep in mind that first-round leaders rarely are. Lauer is a mere 38th on the money list with $49,625 and did not get off to a particularly great start this season. But she has missed only one cut, and in recent weeks her game has come around. She tied for 11th at the Du Maurier two weeks ago.
Otherwise, her most prominent accomplishments to date are two LPGA Tour victories, the last in 1985 at the Uniden LPGA Invitational. In Opens, she once was briefly in contention, in 1981, before Bradley won.
If Lauer's was the prettiest round of the day, Germain's was the jaw-dropper. No one would have predicted that the 40-year-old pro from Greensboro, N.C., could tie the course record after playing just 12 events this year and missing the cut in five of them.
A 13-year veteran of the tour, this is a full season for her compared to last, when she played just seven events. Until two weeks ago her season was unspectacular, but her game began to jell when she tied for eighth at the Du Maurier and for 13th at Boston last week. That has caused her to drop thoughts of running a golf school in North Carolina.
"I considered doing other things," she said. "But I feel like playing right now. That's what I want to do."
If hitting 17 greens is any indication, she's doing it well. Her round included six birdies and three bogeys, two of each on the front nine. But beginning at the par-5 14th she birdied three straight holes for her share of the lead. On No. 14, she hit a wedge to eight feet, on the par-3 15th she knocked an 8-iron to six feet. Then came the 373-yard par-4 16th, where she stared at a 60-foot putt that could have meant a bogey. Instead she sank it and parred in.
"You hate to sit here on the first day and make any sort of claim," she said. "You just hope you can keep playing and not feel extreme pressure."
When Postlewait came in with her 70, she did so under a chrome-colored umbrella to protect her fair skin from the sun. "I look like Tinkerbell out there," she said. She has problems with heat, but it didn't show as she sank two birdie putts of more than 30 feet.
Her streak putting made up what could have been a disastrous round in which she missed 10 greens. Her savior was her blade putter that won her a 1981 Gold Putter contest. The result: five birdies, three bogeys.
Postlewait's shaky round was uncharacteristic of a steady player who won the Mazda Classic to open the season and has five more top 10 finishes that put her 11th on the money list with $115,515. What her round pointed out most clearly was that those who couldn't putt today were in trouble.
That was the problem for Geddes, this year's LPGA Classic winner, who had six bogeys, three coming when she three-putted. Her putting ruined a round that was for a time 1 under par and included three birdies. Geddes bogeyed the par-4 16th and par-5 17th to go 3 over and barely avoided another on the par-4 18th, sinking a six-footer.
"I didn't play well and that's it," she said. "I three-putted three times, that's the story of my day. You can't leave yourself a lot of six-footers for par because you won't make them."
Also at 75 and still in contention was Betsy King, the second-leading money winner and another favorite here. Two more who were well within striking distance were Nancy Lopez, seeking her first Open title, and veteran Sally Little, who lost to Geddes in an 18-hole playoff last year. They were in a group of nine who shot 73.
Then there was Bradley, last year's player of the year and winner of three majors, who has struggled all season. Bradley shot a scarcely believable 44 on the front nine, beginning her round with two consecutive double bogeys. It never got better.
"I had some bogeys and they multiplied," she said. "There weren't many birdies or pars and it makes for a large number. When you make mistakes at the Open, you're going to pay. It's been a long day."