Pebble Beach is big. The resort is big. The surrounding landscape is big. The ocean that the course borders, of course, is big. When you’re on property, no matter the reason, that moment in your life is big. And yet, as groups make their way up hill on No. 11, the farthest point from the clubhouse, everything, for them, gets smaller. The crowd that usually occupies the coastline, for the most part, doesn’t follow. The sound of crashing waves fades away. All that’s left in that portion of the property is a handful of volunteers, the players, and the people who care about them the most.
The first round of the 2023 U.S. Women’s Open began at 7:00 a.m. local time when Kelly Xu, a rising sophomore at Stanford, found the fairway with her opening tee shot. She looked calm in the moment, as if this was just another day of golf. After her round, we found out that was not the case. “I almost started crying on the first tee,” Xu said, grinning. “It was just amazing. I don’t even have words to describe it.”
After leaving the celebratory environment surrounding the first tee, Xu, along with playing partners Lindy Duncan and Haeji Kang, hit their shots in front of a modest crowd for the remainder of their round. Stanford head coach Anne Walker and a strong Stanford contingent cheered on their player, Kang had her parents there, and Duncan had her mom and her caddie’s family following outside the ropes. The group picked up a few followers when they played alongside the ocean on Nos. 8 and 9, but by the time they reached the aforementioned back corner on No. 11, the number of volunteers on the hole likely outnumbered those of us following the group. But the players kept grinding. It was in this quiet part of the course where Duncan holed a 32-foot birdie putt, eliciting a roar from her supporters. Lindy turned and gave a wry smile.
Once the threesome reached the 16th green, a hub of activity at Pebble Beach, the crowd’s intensity finally matched that of the players. The group played in front of large crowds the rest of the way home. They closed out on the iconic par-5 18th, signed their cards, and became the first players to finish a U.S. Women’s Open round at Pebble Beach.
It was no coincidence that Xu, a Northern California native, hit the symbolic first tee shot on Thursday, nor was it an accident that she was joined by two veterans who have worked through tough times in their careers. Together, the three of them started a historic week with a meaningful round. They performed at the highest level in front of their loved ones, families with little kids, and an older couple in matching LPGA Tour tie-dye hoodies. People who had never seen Pebble Beach stopped to watch, as did those who live in Carmel and visit Pebble on a regular basis. It was a round that, while not always marked by the largest of crowds, was significant in every way. For the future of professional women’s golf, it was big.
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.