Teen amateur enjoys surprising run on top of U.S. Women's Open leaderboard
LANCASTER — Megan Khang can't make up her mind on whether or not to attend college.
As a recent high school graduate and with several NCAA Division I colleges anxiously awaiting her decision, her time is running out. But the pull of possibly turning professional and becoming a full-time member on the LPGA Tour or the lower-level Symetra Tour, is making the process more difficult than the 17-year-old would like.
Her performance in the first round of the U.S. Women's Open at Lancaster Country Club on Thursday isn't going to make her decision any easier.
Khang, an amateur from Rockland, Massachusetts, finished at 1-over-par 71, putting her five strokes off the lead, held by Marina Alex and Karrie Webb. But, it was her play during the early part of her round that may have some bearing on her future decision.
Through eight holes, Khang was 4 under, good enough to put her atop the leaderboard and, for a brief moment, alone at the top.
"I definitely saw some signs up there and I tried not to look, but you can't help it," she said about leading the major championship. "I felt like I was playing well, but I knew there was going to be some low scores out there, so I had to keep playing my own game."
A barrage of birdies on holes five, six and seven quickly catapulted her into the lead. It wasn't until the ninth hole that she made her first bogey, but even then, she made the turn at 3 under and at the top of the star-studded leaderboard that featured the names of Lydia Ko and Morgan Pressel.
It was that flurry of birdies during the three-hole stretch on the front nine that caught the attention of a lot of spectators, making them quickly aware of just how much talent this young girl has. A lengthy birdie putt on No. 5, followed by a chip-in birdie on the par-3 sixth and then a tap-in birdie after a nifty chip on the par-5 seventh had every facet of her game on full display.
Khang made her U.S. Women's Open debut at age of 14 in 2012 and then her second appearance came last year in 2014. After failing to make the cut in her first two Women's Open appearances because of rough second rounds, Khang knows full well how physically and mentally demanding this tournament can be.
A struggle on the back: That test again reared its ugly head when she played her second nine of the day, going from firing a front-nine 32 to shooting a back-nine 39. In her defense, though, she wasn't the only player in the field to succumb to the long, taxing round in the searing heat. A number of players faltered at various parts in their rounds and many finished in much worse position than her.
Despite ending her day with back-to-back bogeys, one of which came off a missed two-footer on No. 18, the first-round 71 was by far her best round in her five rounds of U.S. Women's Open play.
"If you told me I was going to shoot 71 at the beginning of the round, I would gladly take it on this course — a very challenging course," Khang said. "I did not think I would be 4 under through eight holes, so if you told me that, I wouldn't have believed you. I would've thought you were pulling my leg."
The way the round ended, however, couldn't help but leave a less-than-appetizing taste in her mouth.
"Knowing what I did and what I could've done better, I'm a little bit disappointed," Khang said.
Whether or not Khang makes it to the weekend for the first time in her brief U.S. Women's Open career remains to be seen. She's only five strokes back of the lead, but also understands that there are very few things more challenging than backing up a strong first round with an equally strong second round.
Future on hold: As for the college thing, those plans are still in play, but also on hold. She's running out of time to make a decision and with a Symetra Tour event, as well as amateur events, still on her summer schedule, the decision on her future may still be weeks away.
However, if there's one thing that Thursday's round told her — and many, many others — it's that, even at 17, she can compete with some of the game's best.
"It's a big confidence booster," Khang said. "Saying that you can compete out here with them, even on some of your bad rounds."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com; follow on Twitter @P_Strohecker