US Women’s Open: Rookie disqualified just five holes into first round after caddie uses rangefinder

Thai golfer Natthakritta Vongtaveelap made it through just five holes of her US Women’s Open debut on Thursday before she was disqualified due to her caddie’s use of a rangefinder.

The 20-year-old LPGA Tour rookie was even-par to start her tournament at California’s famous Pebble Beach course before she was disqualified after caddie Jinsup Kim used the distance-measuring device on two occasions.

“During the first round, on multiple occasions the caddie for Natthakritta Vongtaveelap used a distance measuring device, which is not allowed in the U.S. Women’s Open,” said a statement from the USGA, the organizers of the major.

“The first breach is a general penalty, and the second breach resulted in disqualification.”

Rangefinders are permitted at LPGA Tour-sanctioned events, and made their women’s major debut at the Women’s PGA Championship in 2021, but are not permitted at the US Women’s Open or the Women’s British Open, which is organized by the R&A.

“It’s very unfortunate that it happened,” Yim said Friday.

“She understands her responsibilities as a player and, while very disappointed at what happened yesterday, she vows to return healthy and stronger, physically and mentally.”

The devices are barred from use for men’s players on the PGA Tour and its developmental circuit, the Korn Ferry Tour. On July 1, American Zach Williams navigated just two holes of his Korn Ferry Tour debut at the Memorial Health Championship before he was disqualified for using a rangefinder.

“For some reason I thought they had changed the rule already on the KFT [Korn Ferry Tour],” the 23-year-old tweeted.

“Plus they allow in literally all other pro events besides KFT and PGA [Tour]. Bottomline, I should have known, and its completely on me. Hard to swallow but you have to. I’ll be back in no time.”

Vongtaveelap’s disqualification soured what has been an impressive rookie season for the world No. 90, who turned pro in November 2022.

A five-time champion on the Thai LPGA Tour, Vongtaveelap announced her arrival on the LPGA Tour in stunning fashion with a runner-up finish at the Honda LPGA Classic in February, finishing just one stroke behind American Lilia Vu.

She followed it up with a tied-sixth finish at the Lotte Championship, though missed the cut in four of the five LPGA Tour events leading up to the US Women’s Open.

Kim and Lin start fastest

China’s Xiyu Janet Lin and South Korea’s Kim Hyo-joo share an early lead after carding four-under 68 first rounds.

Both players shot five birdies and a sole bogey, with Lin chasing a first career major and Kim looking to add to her 2014 Evian Championship triumph and avenge an agonizing playoff defeat to Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn in 2018.

With Pebble Beach hosting women’s golf’s oldest major for the first time in its storied 104-year history, both players are relishing the experience.

“I remember before I came out here I went to see my club fitter and I said, ‘I need tape for Pebble’, and he just told me, ‘whatever holes you’re at, just take 30 second to look up at the view and you will be very grateful where you are,’” Lin told reporters after her opening round Thursday.

“We’re part of the history, it’s really cool … Even today when there was some stressful shot coming up, I still told myself like how grateful I am to be actually hitting a shot on this hole.”

Kim added: “I think I can brag about this, my opportunity to play at Pebble Beach.”

Six golfers comprise a bunched up chasing group, including Irish amateur Áine Donegan. Making her major and LPGA Tour debut, the world’s 144th ranked amateur rallied superbly from a back-to-back bogey start, shooting an eagle and five birdies to move within a shot of the leading duo.

The 21-year-old’s efforts were made all the more impressive given the drama that surrounded her arrival at the tournament. A tweet posted by Donegan on Tuesday showed the head of her driver completely snapped off, forcing her to practice and then compete with a replacement club supplied at short notice by manufacturer Ping.

@united I am not happy with you. My clubs finally arrived to Pebble Beach for the @uswomensopen and my driver is destroyed

— aine donegan (@DoneganAine) July 4, 2023

The Irish golfer is joined at three-under by compatriot Leona Maguire, who is chasing a first major title after two wins on the LPGA Tour across the last two seasons. They sit level with American pair Bailey Tardy, Allisen Corpuz, Japan’s Nasa Hataoka and the Republic of Korea’s Hae Ran Ryu.

Reigning champion Minjee Lee got off to a solid start in her attempt to become the first to defend the major since Australian compatriot Karrie Webb in 2001, shooting an even-par 72.

She is two shots ahead of American prodigy Rose Zhang who, after becoming the first LPGA Tour golfer to win on her professional debut since 1951, is vying to better her impressive tied-eighth major debut at the Women’s PGA Championship later in June.

“I’m so lucky to just have people out there watching me and supporting me,” Zhang said.

“No matter how I play I feel like in general they’re just out here trying to cheer me on and help me do my best.

“It’s really nice because I have a lot of family, friends who came up from Southern California. My own mom and brother came and they never really watch me play at all. This is the first time my brother ever actually watched me play, so it’s really, really special.

“I’ve been feeling the love for sure.”

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