Posted: July 8, 2015 8:36 pm
What did you do during the summer when you were 16?
A lazy afternoon at the pool, working that first part-time job, or maybe driving for the first time?
Playing in the U.S. Open probably wasn’t on the to-do list for most of us.
It is, though, for Beth Lillie, who will be a junior at Troy High School in Fullerton, California, this fall.
Despite that age, there she was Wednesday afternoon, bombing her driver on the practice range under the watchful eye of her coach, David Hutchens.
Lillie is one of 52 players who are playing in their first U.S. Women’s Open, which gets underway Thursday morning at the Lancaster Country Club.
While all of the first-timers have golf experience, the Open brings its own mixture of trepidation and excitement.
“I was a little more nervous before I got here, but now I’m more excited,” Lillie said. “You can’t really have a negative attitude towards something like this.”
As an amateur, you might think that standing on the range next to a veteran player might be a little intimidating. But Lillie looks up to many of the LPGA pros and is excited to see them up close and watch how they play.
Lillie is far from alone in her adventure of playing with the best golfers in the world. Her mother Andrea, father Mike and older sisters Meredith and Alison are here to cheer her on.
“I think I get more nervous that she does,” said Meredith Lillie, who like Beth, played golf on her high school team and swam. She will be a college freshman in the fall.
“I just tell her to have fun and enjoy it,” she said.
Beth Lillie’s father said seeing his daughter play in the U.S. Open will be “a dream.” Her mother called it “surreal.”
Knowing their daughter better than anyone, Lillie’s parents were asked to gauge her nerves as she approaches her 2:20 p.m. tee time for Thursday’s first round.
“Each day she has gotten a little more comfortable,” Mike Lillie said. “You could see her normal swing start coming back through the practice rounds. She started out trying to hit the ball too hard.”
As far as experience, Lee Lopez has a bit more than Beth Lillie, although she will tee it up in a U.S. Open for the first time Thursday, too. Lopez is several years removed from playing her college golf at UCLA and Long Beach State. She is playing on the Symetra Tour — a developmental women’s tour billed as the “Road to the LPGA” — for a second season and is currently No. 4 on the Symetra money list.
She comes into the Open after finishing tied for second in last week’s Tullymore Classic in Stanwood, Michigan. It was her fifth tournament in as many weeks.
This week, though, is a bit more special.
“It’s still another tournament and another golf course, but I’m enjoying the hospitality that we don’t normally get,” said the 23-year-old Lopez, who is from Whittier, California. “It’s one of a kind.”
Like Lopez, Jenny Coleman has four years of college golf on her resume, but is in the Open field for the first time.
A year removed from the University of Colorado, Coleman, 22, is happy for the experience but “hopes to put together a few good rounds.”
Coleman’s approach to the course will vary with the playing conditions, whether it stays soft, as it has been for most of the practice this week, or whether the fairways will become more firm, thus shortening the course a bit.
“The course fits my game because I tend to hit the ball a decent distance,” she said. “But it’s still a very long course.”
The takeaway from speaking to first-timers is that enjoyment of the week tops the list. There will certainly be some residual learning points to tuck away for a future tournaments, but other than that, enjoy it.
That was the advice for first-time players given earlier in the week by Inbee Park, who has several U.S. Opens under her belt, including a victory in 2008.
“If it’s your first U.S. Open, what you want to do is just enjoy the atmosphere, enjoy the players, enjoy the venue,” she said. “Everything about this tournament is best. It’s the best players in the world, the best venue, the best courses, the best staff, so just try to enjoy the week.”
It appears Lillie, Lopez and Coleman are down with that.
“I’m just trying to create a good memory,” Lillie said.