Amy Olson was already getting the "friends of" greetings at Hazeltine National Golf Club on Wednesday, June 19. As in, "Hey Amy, we're friends of (fill in a name). Can we get a picture?" To which the Oxbow, N.D., golfer responded with a smile, a brief chat and the requested cellphone group photo.
Such are the trappings of playing an LPGA major championship in Fargo's backyard. Everybody knows somebody and since this Twin Cities suburb is just four hours from her hometown, everybody wants to say "hi" to Amy.
The 26-year-old North Dakota State graduate is fine with it. She interacted with fans, signed autographs, did a couple of media interviews and generally seemed to be enjoying herself as Thursday's first round of the KPMG Women's PGA Championship neared.
"It's fun to see some familiar faces," Olson said. "It feels like home down here."
Make no mistake, Olson is working this week. She played nine holes of practice Monday, played 18 in the pro-am Tuesday and played nine more Wednesday. There were also range sessions, short game practice and time spent on the putting green.
Olson is having a solid season in her sixth year on the LPGA Tour, including three top-15 finishes and $162,017 in winnings, and she'd like nothing better than to snare her first professional victory at a major championship being played so close to home. But she's also appreciative of having the rare opportunity to play before a gaggle of family, friends and fans.
One of her sponsors, Fargo-based Bell Bank, will be passing out "Amy's Army" T-shirts Thursday when she tees off at 9:41 a.m. from the 10th tee.
"It's going to be fun. We're going to actually have a pretty big crowd, I think, Thursday or Friday or maybe both. A bunch of T-shirts around, hopefully some cheering. I love that," Olson said. "I feel so much support from Fargo when I go back, or even just the messages on social media. I just feel like I have not just a town, but an entire state or area of the country behind me. That's really fun. I really appreciate it a lot."
Olson says it might be a challenge with a familiar, larger-than-usual gallery following her, but she will embrace it. The LPGA Tour is a worldwide entity and Olson has already played tournaments this year in Australia, Thailand and Singapore in addition to those played in the United States. LPGA tournaments generally do not draw large crowds and players like Olson who are not major stars often play in front of a handful of fans.
This week will be different. Her family will be at Hazeltine as will her husband's family, which lives in nearby Plymouth, Minn. She's staying near the course with friends. Then there will be the Fargo-Moorhead-Oxbow contingent coming down I-94.
There's even a group Olson calls her "pickleball friends."
Pickleball? Isn't that mostly for retirees?
"Maybe, but I'm obsessed," Olson said, laughing.
Grant, her husband, will not be here. Work beckons. The NDSU football team's linebacker's coach has camps and recruiting.
"There'll be more interaction and potentially more distraction and I'm still figuring out how to deal with it, because it's not every week. When there's three people following your group you can interact. You can have a whole conversation on the tee, you know?" Olson said, breaking into her easy laugh again. "When it's a week like this, you just can't give people that time. That's something I'm am still figuring out how to deal with and I hope people understand I can't give them that time."
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Mike Barge, a Fargo South graduate who has been the longtime teaching pro at Hazeltine, says he knows Olson just enough to know she won't stress over playing a home game.
"Pressure? I don't think she feels that. That's not her," Barge said. "Everybody feels pressure, but with her I think it's more internal. I don't think having 250 people following her around wearing 'Amy's Army' shirts is going to affect her."
The bigger factor might be the Hazeltine course. Big and brawny, the tournament will be played at a stout 6,807 yards with thick rough. The length might be enough to immediately eliminate some of the shorter hitters in the field. Olson should be OK in that department since she's averaging 271 yards off the tee. She's also hitting greens in regulation more than 75 percent of the time. That should give her a chance this week.
Olson missed the cut in her most recent major, the U.S. Women's Open played three weeks ago in South Carolina. But she said she's made a couple of tweaks to her game since then and she believes she's ready for Hazeltine.
"Scoring wedges have given me some trouble and I've made a few adjustments club-wise and swing-wise just to get a little more consistency in the ball flight, even when I'm taking off some distance. That's been probably the main weakness," she said. "I've made some ridiculous birdies with hybrids in my hands and some stupid bogeys with wedges in my hands. That should be one of the easier parts of the game, so I'm looking forward to when we get that tightened up."
Olson had not played Hazeltine, site of several men's major championships and the 2016 Ryder Cup, prior to Monday. She attended the 2009 PGA Championship as a fan.
"It's really nice. It's a huge piece of property. It's grand. It feels like a major. It's going to be fun," she said.
It'll be more fun if she's playing the weekend. And could you imagine the fun if a pseudo-local is contending for the championship Sunday? Amy's Army might grow substantially if that happens.
"We play all over the world, but we don't get to play in our backyard very often. For me, this may be the only one. A win would be absolutely insane. Even just being able to play in front of my friends and family is a really cool opportunity and I would love to play well for them," Olson said. "At the same time, you can't force anything. You can't pick your weeks. Some weeks you're on, some weeks you're not. I'm doing everything I can to prepare and I'm just going to enjoy it, no matter what happens."