A DAY OF THE UNEXPECTED
Elizabeth Szokol, a 28-year-old American who has yet to win on the LPGA tour, returned a 64 to lead the field in the HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore. Quite a score on a day when the leaderboard was a somewhat topsy turvy affair, with Brooke Henderson, the owner of a 78, Jessica Korda a 76, Maja Stark a 74, and Anna Nordqvist a 73.
The explanation, here, is that plenty of the players were out of their comfort-zones because of the dramatic rainfall at the start of the week. On the Tuesday, they were unable to practise as much as they would have wished while, on Wednesday, the pro-am was cancelled altogether. Szokol, for her part, was not overly concerned: “I did what I would usually do and stopped thinking about golf. I went out for dinner with friends and explored Singapore.”
Szokol did not start playing the game until she was 14. In other words, at the same age as Lydia Ko, now the World No 1 and the owner of an opening 70, was already a winner in the professional arena. It is, of course, what makes golf the sport it is. You don’t have to do a Tiger Woods and hit your first shots as you learn to walk.
To explain that 64, Szokol had seven birdies and an eagle on a day when much of her iron play was nothing short of sensational. She has a medical exemption this year because of a back injury sustained last year and that part of her anatomy was playing up a bit today. However, with rounds having started at the crack of dawn because of the afternoon forecast, she had plenty of time to rest.
A rookie on the LPGA tour in 2019, the leader used to be promising in tennis and softball. But when, thanks to one or other or both of those sports, she needed knee surgery at the age of 12, she had to think of something else — and golf it was.
Her story reflects that of YE Yang who, in 2009, defeated Woods in the US PGA championship. Like Szokol, Yang’s late start — at the age of 19 — was down to a knee injury which, in his case, came about when he fell down a flight of stairs on a building site.
Yuka Saso, the Filipino Japanese star who won the US Open in 2021, was out in 32 and handed in a 67 to be three shots to Szokol’s rear.
Saso, too, has a story to tell. Throughout her career, this talented soul has taught herself by watching Rory McIlroy. As for the reason she chose him, it was as much because she thought he was a good man as that he has a fine swing. (How touched will Rory be by that?)
One of the most telling moments in Saso’s round was when it looked as if her 25-footer at the 16th was going to pull up short, only for her ball make one last graceful roll into the cup. Though she had turned in 32, she needed that birdie to lift her back nine.