Nelly Korda, Andrea Lee are among Americans chasing Mamiko Higa at U.S. Women's Open

USGA/Chris Keane

Nelly Korda, Andrea Lee are among Americans chasing Mamiko Higa at U.S. Women's Open

LPGA Tour

Nelly Korda, Andrea Lee are among Americans chasing Mamiko Higa at U.S. Women's Open

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CHARLESTON, S.C. – The U.S. Women’s Open often plays a pivotal role in the careers of American golfers. Prodigies point to their first time at the championship as the moment that sent their desire into overdrive.

Morgan Pressel qualified at the age of 12 in 2001. Lexi Thompson beat her record by several months in 2007. Both basked in the spotlight at Pine Needles.

“I had played golf, and I had enjoyed golf and competed and all those things,” said Pressel earlier this week at Country Club of Charleston, “but I was like, OK, this is what I want to do. I want to compete against the best players in the world and have a career out of playing golf.”

Nelly Korda was 14 when she first qualified for the USWO. She tied for 64th at Sebonack Golf Club and said the experience not only motivated her to get out on the LPGA, but made her fall in love with the game even more.

Her favorite moment from the week came when she knocked it to 4 feet on a drivable par 4.

“It made like $20,000 to like a children’s hospital,” said Korda, “and I got asked what it felt like or what I was thinking over the shot, and I was 14, and I was just like, ‘You got to risk it for the biscuit.’ ”

While American players take inspiration from this championship, they haven’t won it much of late. Only three U.S. players have taken the title in the last 10 years: Brittany Lang (2016), Michelle Wie (2014) and Paula Creamer (2010).

So far at the 74th edition, the top-ranked Americans have finished in the red at Country Club of Charleston. Lexi Thompson (No. 8), Nelly Korda, (No. 11) and Jessica Korda (No. 13) are the only U.S. players in the top 15 of the Rolex Rankings.

Nelly’s 2-under 69 puts her in a share of fifth with American Andrea Lee, the top-ranked amateur from Stanford. Lexi Thompson carded 70 on a surprisingly windy morning and Jessica Korda matched her sister’s efforts of 2 under in the afternoon.

Japan’s Mamiko Higa stands alone at the top after a bogey-free 65. Playing in her first USWO, the 25-year-old Higa was in contention last year at the Women’s British Open. Higa’s fame in Japan has risen after her engagement to Ikioi Shota, a world-class sumo wrestler.

There are seven different countries represented in the top 10 – Japan, USA, South Korea, Germany, Spain, France and China.

“I think we’re probably the most diverse professional sport out there,” said Emma Talley in her thick Southern drawl. “It’s awesome. Your mind just expands when you come out here.”

The Korda sisters are among the most talented players on tour without a major. Jessica, a five-time winner on the LPGA, recorded one of her best finishes at the USWO in her 2008 debut (T-19). This is Nelly’s fourth straight appearance at the event, taking a share of 10th last year at Shoal Creek. She’s a fan of this week’s Seth Raynor design.

“It’s Bermuda grass,” said Nelly. “It’s what I grew up on. I mean, I even like the weather. I’m used to this. I’m from Florida. I like the track.”

And for many of America’s brightest stars this championship, wherever it’s held, feels like home.

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