Friday, June 27, 2008

EDINA, Minn. (AP) — When Hilary Lunke sank the winning put five years ago to become the first qualifier to win a U.S. Women's Open, she immediately began thinking about Interlachen.

This is essentially her home course, where she often played as a teenager at Edina High School. So excuse her for showing some emotion Thursday morning after teeing it up at 7 a.m. and hitting the tournament's first ball.

"I thought I was prepared for it, but I had tears well up in my eyes and I was wishing I had a few more moments to kind of collect myself," said Lunke, who shot a 1-over par 74 for the first round.

Her husband, Tylar, had tears in his eyes, too, after the couple shared a post-round hug on the side of the 18th green.

"It was kind of overwhelming," Lunke said.

Now with an 8-month-old daughter, Lunke has significantly cut back on her tour schedule this season. She missed the cut in all three events she entered; since that improbable victory at Pumpkin Ridge in 2003 she has finished no higher than 22nd place in any tournament. She tied for 64th at the Open in 2004, then missed the cut in the next three.

But this is a special weekend, no matter what happens.

"What a unique experience it is, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come back here as a former champion and to play the greatest event in my sport in my hometown," Lunke said. "To get a reception like that on the last hole is just awesome."

HALL OF FAME: Laura Davies has gone seven years since her last LPGA Tour victory, still two points shy of the required 27 to get into the Hall of Fame. She could get there with a victory at Interlachen, because majors are worth two points.

"Until I do it, it's irrelevant," she said after opening the first round with a 3-under par 70 that had her three strokes behind the leaders. "When I've got enough points, I'll be in, and not before."

Davies is one of the best players from her generation, bringing power long before any of her peers had it and winning her first of four majors 21 years ago at the U.S. Women's Open. The 44-year-old English star has 20 wins on the LPGA Tour, plus 48 victories overseas. She has stayed true to her roots, continuing to make several trips across the Atlantic to support the Ladies European Tour.

"It's safe to say if I would have played full-time in America, then I would have been in (the Hall of Fame) 10 years ago," Davies said. "But I didn't, and I'm not. And I've got to get on with it."

That's Davies, a throwback unwilling to make excuses or complain. She balked at the suggestion she bypass the performance-based LPGA Hall of Fame criteria and try to get the 65 percent vote needed for induction through the international ballot.

"If I don't get in on merit, I don't want to be in," she said.

AGE DIFFERENCE: The USGA put 13-year-old Alexis Thompson in a group with 53-year-old Martha Nause, the youngest and oldest players in this year's field - one sporting pink braces and the other gray hair.

Thompson barely missed a 15-foot eagle putt on the 18th hole when it hugged the lip of the cup, settling for birdie and a 2-over 75. Nause double-bogeyed the par-3 fourth hole and finished at 5 over.

"I'm a little disgusted actually," she said.

Nause realized she was rusty, out of professional competition for nine years and having to qualify for this event. She's currently the men's and women's golf coach at Macalester in nearby St. Paul, but she once finished eighth at the Open in 1987 and owns three LPGA Tour victories - including one major, the 1994 du Maurier Classic.

DIVOTS: Bettina Hauert of Germany wore a white cap that said "CADDY" on the front. Her caddie wore a white cap that said "PLAYER." Hauert opened with a 79. ... Tied with Michelle Wie at 8-over 81 after the first round was a junior-to-be at Kansas named Emily Powers, who is believed to be the first participant in The First Tee program to qualify for a major championship. With 206 chapters around the U.S. and four other countries, the 11-year-old First Tee program is an initiative of the World Golf Foundation to promote educational and character development through the game of golf.

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