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A ‘fearless’ amateur put the U.S. Women’s Open on notice with a record round

Amateur Ingrid Lindblad of Sweden shot a 65 in the first round of the U.S. Women's Open. (Chris Carlson)

SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. — When Ingrid Lindblad peeked at the tee times for the first round of the U.S. Women’s Open, she had an overwhelming sensation of disbelief upon seeing she would be in the same group as her golfing role model, fellow Swede Annika Sorenstam.

Then, on her opening hole Thursday morning at Pine Needles golf club, the No. 2 amateur in the world received another jolt of inspiration from Sorenstam when she briefly held the scorecard of the 10-time major champion in her hands, prompting Lindblad to smile broadly before launching her tee shot.

Lindblad capped her storybook beginning to the most coveted major in the women’s game by shooting a 6-under-par 65, the lowest round by an amateur in any USGA championship, leaving the junior at LSU in second place, one stroke behind first-round leader Mina Harigae, who played later in the day.

Anna Nordqvist, another Swede; Australian Minjee Lee; and American Ryann O’Toole were in a group three shots out of first.

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“I was like, ‘This cannot be true,’ ” Lindblad, 22, said of playing with Sorenstam, 51, in a round that began early in the morning at No. 9 before oppressive heat and humidity set in hours later. “It was really cool. We had fun out there. She fist-pumped me a few times for a few birdies.”

Only one amateur has won America’s national golf championship. In 1967, Catherine Lacoste, the daughter of former tennis player Rene Lacoste and 1927 British Ladies Amateur champion Simone Thion de la Chaume, triumphed at the former Virginia Hot Springs golf club.

The last amateur to finish inside the top 10 was Jenny Chuasiriporn in 1998. Then 20, Chuasiriporn lost on the 20th playoff hole to Se Ri Pak at Blackwolf Run Golf Club in Kohler, Wis.

Lurking four shots off the lead Thursday were Americans Ally Ewing and Lexi Thompson, the sixth-ranked player in the world who’s seeking to end the longest winless streak of her career. Thompson’s last victory came in June 2019 at the LPGA Classic at Seaview Golf Club near Atlantic City.

“Honestly, I haven’t looked at a leader board, so I don’t even know the position that I am at,” Thompson said immediately following her round. “I’ve just been trying to focus on my own game and my emotions. That’s all I can control, but I know my game has been in a good spot.”

Playing one group behind Thompson, Lindblad carded seven birdies and one bogey, that coming at the 513-yard par-5 10th, behind booming distance off the tee, deft iron play and sublime putting. She sank a 19-footer at the par-3 third hole and an 18-footer at the par-3 13th.

The reigning SEC individual champion and two-time SEC player of the year, who in April sparked the Tigers to the program’s first team conference tournament title in 30 years, logged just 26 putts, matching Nordqvist and American Allisen Corpuz (2 under) for the fewest among players who teed off in the morning.

“I hit a few shots close to the pin, and then my putting was great today,” Lindblad said. “Made a few par saves and made a few putts for birdies. It just worked from fairway to green.”

Lindblad hit 14 of 18 greens in regulation to tame a course where accuracy with short irons is imperative given the severe contouring of the putting surfaces, which are firmer than when Pine Needles last hosted the U.S. Women’s Open in 2007 because Bermuda grass has replaced bentgrass.

Lindblad’s power also proved a significant asset, with the fairways having been widened during a course redesign in 2017 that removed much of the rough. Her average driving distance of 267.3 yards at the 6,638-yard layout ranked among the leaders.

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“She’s really impressive,” said Sorenstam, who shot 3 over with a bogey on her final hole, the 351-yard par-4 eighth. “I think people see her as a long hitter, but I’m sure you saw her today. Some of those chip shots she hit, especially on 18, that was not an easy one. I was really impressed.”

Lindblad and Sorenstam have been acquainted since 2014 when Lindblad played in the Annika Invitational Europe, a junior event, in her home country. Lindblad conceded she did not know at the time how much Sorenstam had accomplished in her legendary career.

Five years later, well aware of Sorenstam’s standing on the Mount Rushmore of women’s golf, Lindblad won the Annika Invitational in St. Augustine, Fla., but had not arranged a ride to the airport in Orlando after the tournament.

Sorenstam graciously offered to give Lindblad a ride, and the two spoke extensively along the way.

“Just listening to her, she can be quite bubbly,” said Sorenstam, the reigning U.S. Senior Women’s Open champion. “She’s authentic. She’s got a special look, but she’s a fearless player. I think she’s confident in her own game. I know she doesn’t shy away from the limelight that maybe I did as a young girl. I think she embraces it quite well.”

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