INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA | If you didn’t know her, you’d never know. Amy Olson remains as sweet as any person in or out of golf. You’d never know that this cold, windy Thursday at the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship was her first competitive round since the hooked tee shot, the bad lay-up shot and the three-putt double bogey at the Evian Championship, a final-hole throw-up after 71 of the best holes of her career. Olson, who remains winless in five years on tour, lost that major championship by one shot to Angela Stanford.
Ten days later, she was feeding pulled pork to the linebacker corps at Indiana State where her husband, Grant, is a position coach for the Sycamores. “Oh my goodness,” Olson told me on the short bus ride from Sky72 Golf Club’s Ocean Course to the hotel near Incheon airport. “I bought 30 pounds of pork thinking, well, whatever they don’t eat, we’ll just freeze it. Eight of them ate every bit of it, 30 pounds of pork. I couldn’t fill them up.”
That dinner took place as Olson was packing for South Korea, where she hoped this event would exorcise the memories from the last.
“I was anxious to get back out and play again,” she said. “(Evian) left a bad taste in my mouth and I just couldn’t wait to get back out and be competitive.”
Competitive she was. Olson shot a 3-under-par 69 in a northwesterly wind on Thursday, a first-round effort that included five birdies and solid ballstriking.
“I struck the ball well and kept it in the fairway for the most part,” she said. “And I just holed some putts to keep that going.”
That has been a consistent theme throughout the year. The holder of the NCAA record for most college tournament victories, Olson has a swing that is much different now than when she played at North Dakota State. Tighter and much more on plane, it has improved her trajectory and consistency, as well as her results. In addition to her runner-up finish to Angela Stanford at Evian, Olson finished T9 at the ANA Inspiration after playing herself into the final pairing on Sunday. She also had a top-10 at the Volvik Championship and finished T11 at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.
“It’s a huge confidence boost when you can relax a little bit, know that you’re playing well and there aren’t any fires to put out,” Olson said. “It makes the off weeks a little more relaxing.”
Relaxed is not the word you’d use to describe Olson on the course now. Steeled. Determined. Prepared. Those all fit. Her Evian Championship experience might not have changed the kindness she shows to everyone but it did harden something inside her. Before, she looked like a player happy to be in contention. Now she looks like competitor ready to win.
“I’ve talked to so many people, from Nancy Lopez to Andy North to Dave Stockton. So many people have said that (Evian) is going to be a turning point in my career,” she said. “It’s going to be one of those things that I’ll be able to build upon. The people who win (their first major) easily, sometimes that’s the only one they get.”
From the look in her eyes, it’s evident that Olson is not that kind of player.
“I feel like I’ve got a chip on my shoulder now,” she said. “I’ve got a fire inside me.”