Mamiko Higa grabs spotlight in first round of Women's Open

Mamiko Higa grabs spotlight in first round of Women's Open

Reid Spencer Editor & Publisher
image (AP Photo/Mic Smith)
Mamiko Higa Got up and down for birdie from a greenside bunker at the ninth hole on the way to a first-round 65 in the U.S. Women's Open.

CHARLESTON, S.C. – It was a day for players who barely made the field for the 74th U.S. Women’s Open at the Country Club of Charleston.

It was a day for players who didn’t appear in the championship media guide—much less in the collective consciousness of typical golf fans, or of LPGA denier Hank Haney for that matter.

It was a day for international players.

It was a day for players whose last names begin with “H.”

Mamiko Higa of Japan fired a bogey-free 6-under-par 65 to take a one-shot lead after Thursday’s morning wave completed play in the first round of the most prestigious women’s championship. Higa picked up birdies on holes 3, 4, 5 and 9 on the front side and on holes 10 and 17 on the back to post nines of 32-33.

That was the lowest round ever in a U.S. Women’s Open debut and the lowest score in any round of the championship since the opening 18 in 2016.

At least for a day, the 65 thrust Higa into an unaccustomed spotlight. The LPGA Tour of Japan player doesn’t have a Wikipedia page yet, and before Thursday’s first round, she was far more famous for her engagement to Sumo wrestler Ikioi Shota than for anything she had accomplished on the golf course.

“I didn't expect much here, to come here and play that well,” Higa said on a blistering hot Lowcountry day tempered slightly by a brisk breeze. “I came here on a Saturday, and since then, I not only golf, but I enjoy the life here.

“So I'll keep enjoying it and enjoying it, and just come in to the golf course, and I just enjoyed 18 holes today.”

Higa held a one-shot lead over Germany’s Esther Henseleit (photo), who got into the championship by the skin of her teeth, as first alternate after losing a playoff for the second and final guaranteed spot in the sectional qualifier in Buckinghamshire, England.

Like Higa, Henseleit played bogey-free. Starting on the par-4 10th, she picked up birdies on 12, 14 and 15 and added two more back-to-back on holes 4 and 5 on the way to her 5-under 66.

“Back at the qualifier in London, I was doing really well, and then I played some stupid bogeys in the end and lost in the playoff,” Henseleit said. “And I felt like, OK, there's no chance I could play in there, and it was really sad. And when I got the message, like maybe one-and-a-half weeks ago, and, of course, I couldn't imagine to sit here and do that good.

“I mean, I played quite good this year, and I gained a lot of confidence on the Ladies European Tour. Yeah, it's good to be here.”

Celine Boutier of France caught fire on the back nine, posting five birdies against a lone bogey to finish at 4-under 67, good for third place after the morning wave. South Korea’s Sei Young Kim twice reached 5 under par but gave back shots at the 16th and 18th holes to card a 68.

Of the 10 players to break 70 in the morning, only two—amateur Andrea Lee and Nelly Korda—were American. Both finished at 2-under 69.

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