PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Bailey Tardy procrastinated so much about signing up for US Women’s Open qualifying that she almost forgot it altogether. The Georgia native wound up in Minnesota, where she thought a bogey on her 36th hole put her in the first alternate position. She’d showered, changed clubs and packed up her golf clubs for an evening flight when another player suddenly three-putted the last hole.
“I was like oh, my gosh, I’ve got to go hit golf balls, I’ve been sitting down for an hour and a half,” recalled Tardy. “So I threw golf clothes back on, found my golf shoes, hit about 15 balls, and just went and played four more holes, which felt like an eternity.”
Tardy holed a 20-foot birdie putt on her fourth extra hole to secure a spot at Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, California, for her fourth US Women’s Open start. Now, the 26-year-old, ranked No. 455 in the world, finds herself the unlikely leader at the midway point of this historic championship.
Not that she seems too surprised.
“I’ve always believed in myself to win any tournament that I enter,” said Tardy. “I’m good enough to be here, and I’ve been on the LPGA, so I feel like I definitely have the game to hang with the best in the world.”
The powerful Tardy hit a 306-yard drive on the sixth hole Friday to reach the par 5 in two and make eagle for a consecutive day, A second-round 68 gave her the solo lead at 7 under at the midway point Friday. She missed the cut in her three previous USWO appearances and finished inside the top 50 only once thus far in her rookie season.
“I love this place,” said Tardy of her inspired play this week. “It’s heaven on earth.”
Tardy leads former USC player Allisen Corpuz and Hyo Joo Kim by two shots. While Kim, a five-time winner on the LPGA including the 2014 Evian Championship, is a veteran of this position, 29th-ranked Corpuz is still getting used to it all. The 25-year-old is only in her second full season on the LPGA.
“I honestly still need to get a little more comfortable, I think, in contention,” said Corpuz. “So that’s really been the focus this year, just really trying to put myself into that spot and then hopefully learn how to convert as it keeps happening.”
Kim, currently ranked eighth in the world, leads the LPGA in greens in regulation and scoring, and ranks fifth in putts per green in regulation. She closed her round Friday with a pair of bogeys to follow an opening 68 with 71.
“Starting tomorrow, I will have an excellent mindset as a new day,” said Kim of her disappointing finish.
Rookie sensation Rose Zhang heads into the weekend at 1 over par, eight strokes back of Tardy. Zhang shot 34 on her back nine for a 1-under 71, feeling like she’d steadied things enough to go into the weekend with a fresh mind.
Zhang, who holds the women’s course record of 63 at Pebble Beach, currently ranks 10th in the field in strokes gained off the tee. Her ball-striking hasn’t been as pristine as usual, however, as she’s hit only 20 of 36 greens.
“I’ve been in this position before where you have to chase,” said Zhang, “and it’s nothing new to me.”
Good-sized crowds have followed Zhang around an overcast Pebble Beach the first two days. The former Stanford star said she’s “super lucky” that people like her.
“I think that it does change a lot of how I play just because you have people just randomly shouting at you and you randomly cheering you on,” said Zhang.
“It’s great and all, but definitely something that I’ve never been used to or been accustomed to. This is all very foreign and new to me. Week three as a pro.”
Story originally appeared on GolfWeek