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Amateur Ingrid Lindblad takes the lead at the US Women’s Open

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SOUTHERN PINES, NC — When Ingrid Lindblad glanced at the tee times for the first round of the US Women’s Open, she had an overwhelming sense of disbelief that she would be in the same group as her golfer model, his Swedish compatriot Annika Sorenstam.

Then, on her first hole Thursday morning at Pine Needles Golf Club, the world’s No. 2-ranked amateur received another jolt of inspiration from Sorenstam when she briefly held the major champion’s scorecard at 10 replays in his hands, prompting Lindblad to smile broadly before delivering his tee shot.

Lindblad capped her storybook by starting the most coveted major in the women’s game by shooting a 6-under 65, the lowest round by an amateur in any USGA championship, propelling the junior at LSU in the lead, at the time two strokes ahead of Australian Minjee Lee and Anna Nordqvist, another Swede.

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“I was like it couldn’t be true,” Lindblad, 22, said of playing with Sorenstam, 51, in a round that started early in the morning at No 9 before the heat and l Overwhelming humidity only sets in a few hours later. “It was really cool. We had fun there. She gave me some punches for some birdies.

Only one amateur has won the US national golf championship when in 1967 Catherine Lacoste, the daughter of former tennis player René Lacoste and 1927 British amateur champion Simone Thion de la Chaume, triumphed at the old club Virginia Hot Springs golf course.

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

Three strokes from Lindblad’s lead were Americans Ally Ewing and Lexi Thompson, the sixth player in the world looking to end the longest winless streak of her career. Thompson’s last win 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 where I am,” Thompson said immediately after his lap. “I just tried to focus on my own game and my emotions. That’s all I can control, but I know per game I’ve been in a good position.

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

The defending SEC individual champion and two-time SEC Player of the Year, who in April propelled the Tigers to the program’s first team conference tournament title in 30 years, recorded just 26 putts, tying Nordqvist and American Allisen Corpuz (2 under) to say the least among the players who started in the morning.

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

Lindblad hit 14 of 18 greens in regulation to tame a course where precision with short irons is imperative given the harsh contour of the putting surfaces, which are firmer than when Pine Needles last hosted the US Women’s Opened in 2007 because Bermuda grass replaced bentgrass.

Lindblad’s power has also proven to be a strong asset, with the fairways widened in a course overhaul in 2017 that removed much of the rough. His average driving distance of 267.3 yards on the 6,638-yard course 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 made, especially the 18, weren’t easy. I was really impressed.

Lindblad and Sorestam have known each other since 2014 when Lindblad played in the Annika Invitational Europe, a junior event, in her home country. Lindblad admitted she didn’t know at the time how much Sorenstam had accomplished in her storied career.

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

Sorenstam graciously offered to drive Lindblad, and the two spoke at length along the way.

“Just listening to her, she can be very bubbly,” said Sorenstam, the defending US Senior Women’s Open champion. “She is genuine. She has a special look, but she’s a fearless player. I think she’s confident in her own game. I know she’s not afraid of the limelight that I may have had as a young girl. I think she accepts it quite well.