At U.S. Women’s Open, a 17-Year-Old Amateur Puts Herself in Contention

The U.S. Women’s Open has throughout its 76-year history been a kind of coming-out party for young players, like the 10-year-old Beverly Klass in 1967, the 11-year-old Lucy Li in 2014 and the 12-year-old Lexi Thompson in 2007. After gaining acclaim for their youth, none survived the cut.

The tournament is, in theory, the most accessible of majors. Nearly half the players in this year’s field — 76 of the 156 entrants, including Ganne — earned their berths through 36-hole qualifiers held throughout the country. Ganne secured her spot on the second playoff hole of her qualifier. It speaks to the vagaries of golf that a teenager who was on the verge of elimination in qualifying can rise to the top of the leaderboard through two rounds.

“It just all seems really fun and a better story to tell than I got in without a playoff,” Ganne said. The last amateur to lead after a round in the U.S. Women’s Open was Jane Park, a 19-year-old who held a share of first place after the opening round in 2006 at Newport Country Club.

Ganne’s galleries have included members of the women’s golf coaching staff at Stanford, which she has verbally committed to attend starting in the fall of 2022, and her family. Ganne’s father, Hari, is an information-technology professional. Her mother, Sudha, is an endocrinologist, and her younger sister, Sirina, 13, is an eighth grader who also plays golf.

Her mother said her phone had vibrated in her jacket pocket for the entire second nine of her daughter’s first round and well into Thursday night as texts arrived from friends and neighbors back in New Jersey. She awoke Friday to more messages from family members in India. On Thursday, Sudha Ganne expressed a desire for Megha to remain “a regular kid and enjoy other things” besides golf.

A day later, Ganne’s mother waded through a gallery that had grown tenfold overnight, stared at the leaderboard with her daughter’s name atop it and worried that someone had sped up the belt conveying Megha through adolescence. She can hear the armchair career counselors now: If Megha can contend for a $1 million winner’s check while still in high school, why go to college?

“She’s absolutely going to college. There’s no doubt about that,” Ganne’s mother said.

But like the calculus homework awaiting Ganne’s attention, success is introducing complicated variables. “I am a little overwhelmed with the attention, but I’m hoping she will cope with it and maybe we will try to help her with it,” Ganne’s mother said.

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