Kerr, Lincicome and Salas share lead in U.S. Women’s Open

KOHLER, Wis. – It was like playing golf in a sauna and a tanning bed. At the same time. Yes, it was hot at the 67th U.S. Women’s Oven . . . er, Open.

The first round of the championship Thursday probably set a record for most umbrellas used on a day without a drop of rain. Bottled water was as precious as birdies, though thankfully not as scarce.

The temperature at Blackwolf Run peaked at 98 degrees at 2:30 p.m.

“Brutal,” said Cheyenne Woods, who lives in Phoenix.

“Incredibly hot,” said Beatriz Recari of Spain.

After the final bead of sweat fell off the last brow, the leaders were Cristie Kerr, Brittany Lincicome and Lizette Salas, all of whom shot 3-under-par 69s.

They held a one-stroke lead over Recari, 17-year-old Lexi Thompson, Jennie Lee and Ai Miyazato of Japan.

Yani Tseng of Taiwan, ranked No. 1 in the world, opened with a 74, as did defending champion So Yeon Ryu of Korea.

Blackwolf Run was set up at 6,808 yards. Only 14 women broke par in the oppressive conditions and the average score was 76.16. The pace of play, always slow in the first round of the U.S. Open, was an excruciating 5 hours 45 minutes as players paused to towel off between shots, wipe off wet grips and rehydrate on nearly every tee box.

“It was a bad combination,” Lincicome said of the heat and the pace of play. “I felt like we were out there waiting on every single hole. You kind of have to take your mind somewhere else . . . because 5{ hours, it’s hard to concentrate that long.”

There were no major heat-related incidents, according to the United States Golf Association, and no hospital transports.

The presence of Kerr’s and Lincicome’s names on the leader board was no surprise. Kerr, 34, is a quintessential grinder with a stellar record in the U.S. Open. Lincicome, 26, is a five-time winner on the LPGA Tour.

The 22-year-old Salas, however, is somewhat of a surprise – and a great story.

She grew up in a rough neighborhood in Azusa, Calif., and her father, a handyman, worked out a deal with the head professional at a local golf course to give her lessons.

“My dad didn’t have that much money to pay for lessons because they’re really expensive,” Salas said. “I didn’t have golf shoes. I didn’t know how to dress, nothing like that. They worked out a deal where my dad did handyman favors for them. He fixed cars on the side and that’s how I got started.

“Just been swinging ever since.”

Salas went on to play golf at Southern Cal, where she was a four-time All-American. In December, she survived a nine-way playoff at the LPGA Tour qualifying tournament to earn exempt status.

“Being on top of the leader board at the U.S. Women’s Open is just surreal,” she said.

It’s nothing new for Kerr, who played a bogey-free round that could have been even better.

“I had a wicked lip-out on 18 (her ninth hole),” she said. “I hit a perfect putt. It just horseshoed out. Then the same thing on No. 5. And then on (Nos.) 6 and 7, I had two 7-, 8-foot birdie putts that maybe barely didn’t start online.

“So four opportunities. I hit pretty good putts that didn’t go in, but that’s the U.S. Open. Bogey-free today. I can’t complain about that.”

Kerr has finished out of the top 25 at the Women’s Open just three times since 2000.

“The U.S. Open is where it’s at,” she said. “This is where I want to perform. This is the stage I want to perform on. And I did good to stay focused and not get discouraged.”

Kerr missed the cut last week at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. But the tougher the course, the better she seems to play.

“I do,” she said. “I think it forces me to focus more. Sometimes I get a little bored or I lose interest. But not here. You can’t fall asleep here.”

Lincicome said she was unsettled by the difficulty of the course during her practice rounds but proved to herself that an under-par score was possible at Blackwolf Run. She made five birdies and two bogeys

“I was very pleased,” she said. “Coming into this week and playing the practice rounds, you’re out there and you’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh, 5-, 6-, 7-over is going to win this event.’

“Obviously, today shooting 3-under, I have to kind of rethink my strategy, and obviously under par is very doable.”

Lincicome had been struggling with her putting recently but needed just 27 putts Thursday.

“I changed something in my putting about a month ago,” she said. “And it really was a disaster, and it didn’t bode well for my stroke or anything. So I kind of went back to what I had been doing all of last year and all of the beginning of this year and felt 100 times more confident.

“Putting is all confidence. You can shut it down, slice it, hook it, do whatever you want in the stroke. But as long as you’re confident in doing it, you can kind of trick your mind into thinking you’re the best putter ever, even if you have the worst stroke on tour.”