By Alan Saunders
On Thursday’s opening round of the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open at Lancaster Country Club, “Who is she?” was the most asked question overheard while following the group containing reigning U.S. Open champion Michelle Wie.
They weren’t asking about Wie, whose 6-foot-1 frame and hot pink outfit made her easy to pick out from across the course.
They also weren’t asking about fan favorite and defending British Open champion Mo Martin, who had a solid 1-over par round, the best in the group.
They were asking about the girl with her hair in a braid and a touch of a drawl, 17-year old Kristen Gillman from Austin, Texas. Gillman, who qualified by winning the 2014 U.S. Amateur Championship, started off hot, leading the star-studded group at even par through five holes and hanging close with her more experienced playing partners.
Gillman, with her father, Mark, who is her caddie this week, at her side, handled pressure of playing in such a pressure-packed environment with aplomb. In fact, she seemed to enjoy it.
“It’s been awesome,” she said. “I had a great time. It was really fun just to be able to play with great players.”
She also enjoyed the experience of teeing off after a pair of major champions.
“I enjoyed playing with them,” said Gillman. “They’re both really nice people.”
Even some struggles on the green couldn’t stop Gillman from smiling after her 5-over-par round of 75.
“Yeah, some putts didn’t go in, but I hit good ones, too, so that’s all I can ask for,” she said.
She wouldn’t commit to a specific goal for her round on Friday, but when asked if she planned on making the cut and staying for the weekend, her answer was a definitive “yes.”
Gillman, who has committed to the University of Alabama, will have some work to do if she wants to make the cut. The top 60 golfers and ties will advance to the weekend, which was hovering around 2-over on Thursday afternoon.
Regardless of her score this weekend, if the talented young Texan continues to shine through the pressure of the biggest stage in women’s golf, someday the crowds may be coming to see her.