Chaska, Minn. — Hyo Joo Kim set small goals to help her on the long course of Hazeltine National at the Women’s PGA Championship.
Her target was hitting 12 greens and taking no more than 30 putts Thursday in the opening round, and Kim didn’t realize she hit both of them. More important was she dropped only one shot before the wind and rain arrived, posting a 3-under 69 for a one-shot lead among the early starters.
“The course played really long today,” Kim said. “It just kept feeling like I just wanted to play even par, and that’s kind of what was in my mind.”
Michelle Wie left wondering about her future. She returned to competition for the first time in two months, was rubbing ice on her right wrist and shot 84, matching her highest score as a pro. Wie said she loved being back, but began crying when she said, “I’m not entirely sure how much I have left in me.”
Only seven players from the early draw managed to break par, a group that included Ariya Jutanugarn, one of the longest hitters on the LPGA Tour. Hazeltine played at 6,831 yards — just 244 yards shorter than the card at Pebble Beach for the U.S. Open last week — and it felt even longer when dark clouds on the horizon brought strong wind, cool temperatures and a steady rain that soaked the course.
It was long enough for Jutanugarn to hit driver — twice. The Thai typically doesn’t even carry a driver because she has so much power she is just as effective with either a 3-wood or a 2-iron.
“I hit my driver twice today — pretty good,” Jutanugarn said with a proud smile before adding, “Made bogey.”
That was on the par-5 11th hole. She also hit her driver on the par-5 15th into the right rough, leaving her 260 yards away. She laid up and made birdie the conventional way, and relied on a 3-wood and a 4-iron to set up birdie on the 528-yard seventh hole with water guarding the front of the green.
Annie Park joined Jutanugarn at 70, while the group at 71 included major champions Lydia Ko and So Yeon Ryu.
Lexi Thompson, another big hitter, hit 3-wood just through the green on the 543-yard 15th to set up birdie. Coming off a victory two weeks ago, Thompson dropped a shot on the par-5 third hole and played the front nine — her second nine — in 1 over for a 72.
She was stunned by seeing Jutanugarn with a driver.
“I didn’t even realize it until she actually hit,” Thompson said. “That’s a first.”
Thompson thought Hazeltine was the longest on the LPGA Tour, at least for majors. Mission Hills for the ANA Inspiration played 6,763 on the card in the desert air of California. Thompson figured the course would be shorter than where the tees were for practice rounds.
“They kept it pretty long,” Thompson said. “They didn’t move anything, especially the one long par 3.” That would be No. 13, which measured 195 yards, and had Thompson reaching for a 4-iron.
The morning wave figured to have the easier time of Hazeltine, but it became tougher in the afternoon with a quick shift in the weather. A blue sky and moderate breeze soon gave way to wind and rain about the time Kim, Jutanugarn and Thompson were finishing.
“I was wearing my sunglasses and I wondered if it was the sunglasses that were dark,” Ko said. “No, it’s dark. The wind was really blowing and at one point, when you’re hitting straight into the wind, I think I hit one of my drives 200 yards because I didn’t hit it very well and it went straight up.”
On the 382-yard sixth hole, with the wind at her back, she hit driver and a sand wedge into the green to set up her final birdie.
“I was hitting 7-iron yesterday,” she said.
Maria Fassi caught a flyer out of the light rough on the 16th and watched it sail over the green on the 16th and into the water for a double bogey. The NCAA champion out of Arkansas countered with two birdies and another bogey for a 73.
Jennifer Kupcho, who like Fassi deferred her LPGA card until after college, didn’t fare so well. She opened with an 84.
“I love that it’s a course that is playing long and it’s windy and it demands good like ball-striking,” Fassi said. “I think it’s a course that fits me well. Today, it was OK. Lot of pars, but overall, I’m pretty happy with the way I played. … Pars are my friends here, and especially majors. Sometimes they don’t feel great, but they are. They’re not going to hurt me.”
Ryan Armour and Bronson Burgoon shot 64s to share the early first-round lead at the Travelers Championship.
Burgoon birdied four of his first six holes, and Armour birdied seven of his final 14 in drizzle and fog at TPC River Highlands.
Memorial champion Patrick Cantlay was part of a group at 66. Cantlay started on the back nine and was tied for the lead when his tee shot landed in water on the par-3 eighth hole, leading to a double bogey.
Defending champion Bubba Watson opened with a 69 in his bid for his fourth Travelers title. Brooks Koepka, coming off his runner-up showing at the U.S. Open, had a 71.
Two-time champion Phil Mickelson, 2012 winner Marc Leishman and 2017 champion Jordan Spieth were grouped in afternoon play.