No matter how Megan Khang plays in her US Women’s Open debut this week, the 14-year-old from Rockland will be coming home with one impressive portrait gallery.
Idolizing a number of LPGA Tour stars ever since she began playing serious golf, Khang is suddenly among them in Kohler, Wis., site of the 67th US Women’s Open, at Blackwolf Run Golf Course. She’s resisted the urge to ask for any autographs — she’s signed a few herself — but photographs? That’s a different story. She rattled off the list of those she’s already posed with, no last names necessary.
“Yani [Tseng], Ai [Miyazato], Michelle [Wie], Lexi [Thompson], Christina Kim, Se Ri Pak,” Khang said by telephone earlier this week. “And a bunch of others. It’s fun being out here with everyone.”
Khang earned her spot at the biggest tournament in women’s golf by finishing second in a 36-hole qualifier at Longmeadow Country Club. She’s not the youngest competitor this week — that honor goes to 13-year-old Angel Yin of California — but her youth certainly has drawn its share of attention, especially among those who have walked in her shoes and are familiar with the path she’s on.
Which player was the most surprised at Khang’s age?
“Michelle Wie,” Khang said of the phenom who first played in the US Women’s Open at 13. “As soon as she found out I was 14, she said, ‘Lexi, you’re not the youngest in the group anymore!’ ”
Khang played nine holes with Wie and Thompson (at 17, already a winner on the LPGA Tour) on Monday, and joined Suzann Pettersen, Wendy Ward, and Sandra Gal for a practice round on Wednesday. She’s paired with Reilly Rankin and Jennifer Gleason for the first two rounds, starting off No. 10 on Thursday at 10:01 a.m.
Getting to meet so many LPGA Tour stars has been nice, but Khang said the real treat has been to study them up close, inside the ropes, as they practice and prepare for a major championship. The difference in the time that she puts in and what she’s seen from the game’s best professionals has been striking.
“After 18 holes everyone’s still out here putting and at the range. I have to work harder,” Khang said. “They definitely have more experience and they’re more mature. They’ve been doing this for a while, and I’m just starting out, so I still get nervous.”
There to at least try to calm Khang down will be her father, Lee, who serves as her teacher and also will be her caddie this week. They’ll face a long test — Blackwolf Run will be stretched to 6,954 yards — with a strong emphasis placed on the short game, especially putting.
“On these fast, undulating greens, it’s all about speed control,” Lee Khang said. “If you can’t control your speed, you’ll be three-putting every other hole. If we have more than one three-putt each day, we’re in big trouble.”
While wanting to play well, Khang said she’s tempered her expectations, just this once. This isn’t a local event she’s expected to dominate (although she recently won a junior tournament by 17 strokes, shooting 67-66).
“Make the cut, try for low am, but that’s going to be really tough out here,” Khang said, when asked what her goals are this week. “This is beyond what I expected.”
Khang isn’t the only player with Massachusetts ties playing at Blackwolf Run. Alison Walshe, a native of Ireland who lives in Westford and has been on the LPGA Tour for three seasons, was the medalist at Longmeadow. Brittany Altomare, who just finished her junior year at Virginia, lives in Shrewsbury and qualified in Rockville, Md.
Walshe made the cut as an amateur in her US Women’s Open debut four years ago, when she tied for 27th.
This is the fifth consecutive time she’s qualified; the other time Walshe made the cut was last year, when she tied for 27th. Altomare is making her third appearance, and missed the cut in 2009-10.