Brittany Lincicome made the storm-delayed first round of the 59th U.S. Women's Open look like mere child's play Thursday. The unpretentious 18-year-old Floridian even caused herself to cry as she matched the lowest amateur score ever in this national championship and opened a one-shot lead over French veteran and new mother Patricia Meunier-Lebouc.
On a day when 14-year-old Michelle Wie pulled off a spectacular eagle on her final hole and finished at even-par 71, Lincicome, a far less heralded teenager, used an eagle at the 377-yard 15th to soar to a round of 5-under 66, a course record at The Orchards Golf Club on the campus of Mount Holyoke College.
Lincicome's tee shot at the 15th landed in the left rough, 125 yards from the hole; she punched a low 7-iron shot that skittered up the sloped gap in front of the green and didn't stop rolling until it found the cup.
"I did cry," said Lincicome, who plans to turn pro this summer despite at least 50 scholarship offers to play in college. "After it went in, I looked at my dad [Tom, her caddie this week] and started bawling. I could not stop. I walked all the way to the green; my mom started crying, and then I started crying even more. Don't look at your mom when you're crying. You're going to start crying even more."
There's not really supposed to be crying in golf -- especially not after Lincicome played her final nine in 5-under 30, tying an Open nine-hole record. But with 16 teenagers in the competition, it may be hard to find a dry Kleenex on the property if this keeps up.
Last Sunday, Wie cried when she lost on the 36th hole in the final match of the U.S. Women's Public Links tournament in Williamsburg. But Wie's main emotion Thursday was sheer frustration after struggling with her driver through her first 17 holes. She also had a sloppy double bogey at the 158-yard No. 5 when she hit a 7-iron into the woods and had to take an unplayable lie. She went back to the tee, then made a tough 12-footer to avoid a triple.
On her final hole, the 527-yard No. 9, Wie pulled out her big club one more time and cracked a 310-yard tee shot down the middle of the fairway. From there, she hit a 220-yard 5-wood that stopped ten feet above the hole, then made the eagle putt for 71.
"I thought I just had to hit that driver hard," said Wie, playing on a special USGA exemption. "I mean, I just took a lot of stress out. It felt really good after I hit that shot. It was better than punching your bag. You feel great after playing that bad and having that eagle. I think I'll eat lunch better."
Players in the afternoon round would have been smart to pack a lunch. A loud and drenching thunderstorm came through shortly after 2:30 p.m., causing a halt in play that lasted more than three hours. The round resumed at 5:45 p.m., and 75 players could not finish. That included Annika Sorenstam, who was 1 under through five holes when play was first halted and 2 under through 15 holes when darkness ended play a few hours later.
Well known in junior golf circles, Lincicome said she didn't want to come to play her first Open until she felt her game was solid enough to compete. She had to get through a 36-hole qualifier to get here and purposely asked to be scheduled for practice rounds with some of the game's top players, including Karrie Webb, Kelli Robbins and Rosie Jones. Now she knows her game measures up.
Unlike Wie and some of the other top teens competing this week, Lincicome has taken the low-key, tight-budget approach toward getting ready for this level of play. She has never attended a golf academy, does not employ a psychologist, and her instructor back home in the St. Petersburg, Fla., suburbs teaches golf at a driving range. Her parents, Tom and Angie, operate and teach at a preschool, and Brittany has been home-schooled the last four years, though she did play high school golf, three years on the boys' team and last season with the girls because of new state rules.
"She's been very well-grounded for all of this," Angie Lincicome said. "She has two older brothers, and she's never been one to brag about anything. When she has a great round, she won't even tell us. That's just the kind of person she is."
Lincicome also is having a grand time this week away from the golf course.
"It's been awesome," she said of her first Open. "Right when we got here, we got all this free stuff. . . . We got our players packet and . . . it said a free car for the week if you're over 18. I said 'Hey, I'm over 18. I can get this car for a week.' I've been driving this car everywhere. It's a Honda Element, looks like a Hummer, but more boxy."
Meunier-Lebouc, 31, needs a family-friendly courtesy car, if only because she's here this week with her husband, her mother and her new baby daughter, Phildine Pearl, born on Feb. 9. She played a good portion of the 2003 season pregnant and had her best year on the LPGA Tour, winning her first major at the Kraft-Nabisco and finishing in the top 15 in the other three majors.
"I have my mother and my husband; I just have the best conditions out here to be playing," said Meunier-Lebouc, who was still hitting golf balls five days before giving birth and started playing the tour again ten weeks afterward. "I'm very relaxed out there, and I don't have to bother about whether she is okay. . . . It's a very interesting experience."
It got especially interesting Thursday when she birdied her final four holes finishing up on the front nine, more than offsetting the double bogey she made on her third hole of the day after hitting her second shot at the 344-yard 12th over the green and three-putting.
"Right now, today is a very comfortable position," said Meunier-Lebouc, who hasn't missed a cut in seven tournaments since coming back and was fifth last week in Rochester. "There's three days to go, and everything can happen. I'm just happy to be here and playing good golf after just coming back a few months ago. I'm just having fun right now."