Japan's Mori earns berth in U.S. Open Johnson fires 64 to win Colonial
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
'EWA BEACH — While the wind howled and the sun beat relentlessly, Sakurako Mori landed two eagles and beat out 19 others at Hawai'i's U.S. Women's Open sectional qualifier yesterday at Hoakalei Country Club.
The 20-year-old from Tokyo managed a magical back nine in conditions so tough they brought a former U.S. Women's Open champ — Liselotte Neumann — to her knees.
Mori fired a 74 in the morning round, but caught and passed early leader Kristina Merkle with a 70 in the afternoon. Merkle (73-74), a Tulsa freshman who just won her fourth Jennie K. championship, is first alternate. Cassie Isagawa (77-73), who just won the state high school championship, is second alternate.
This year's Open is July 8 to 11 at Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania. Hoakalei hosted one of 20 qualifiers across the country. Hawai'i's Michelle Wie is already in as an exempt player.
The women played Hoakalei at nearly 6,500 yards. The grind of all its elements — length, wind, water hazards, deep bunkers — took a toll most noticeably on Neumann, who includes the 1988 Women's Open among her 27 titles worldwide.
She was under par in the morning round until a 7 on the par-4 17th resulted in a 74. Neumann shot 85 in the afternoon, with three more 7s on her card.
"She was playing great," said 12-year-old Allisen Corpuz, who played with — and beat — Neumann by shooting 79-78. "But towards the end she kind of fell apart."
No one could beat Mori, a two-time Japan Amateur champ who turned pro two years ago and is 222nd in the world rankings now. She made the turn in 37, tied with Merkle. Then she found the magic "feel" in a wind she embraced.
Her drive on the par-4 12th (240 yards) stopped 2 feet from the hole for a kick-in eagle. Her approach shot from 115 yards on the 16th bounced twice and disappeared for another.
"Unbelievable," Mori said, with no need for an interpreter.
She came here at the urging of fellow Japanese pro Yukari Nishiyama, who finished fifth behind Marissa Chow. Now Mori is headed to her dream tournament.
"It has been my dream to play the U.S. Women's Open," Mori said, this time taking full advantage of an interpreter. "I really enjoy playing with many other great players."
Merkle was also hoping her Open dream would come true. She one-putted the first four holes on the back nine and played it in even par, then had to wait for eight more golfers to finish. Mori burst her bubble a few minutes later.
"I'm going through some swing changes right now so it's tough when you're not really confident when you stand over the ball," said Merkle, a Moanalua High graduate. "I just tried to grind it out and hang in there. I did whatever I could do."
Her sadness was tempered by Mori's magic.
"I lost to a good score, so. There's always some things you could have changed out there but you can only do what you can and whatever happens, happens," Merkle said. "It has and I can't go back and change it."
Corpuz and Anna Jang, a former state high school champion who just finished her freshman year at Princeton, qualified for the U.S. Women's Public Links Saturday at Hoakalei.