HOUSTON, TEXAS | Everything feels heavier in the cold. Golf bags might as well be full of bricks. Clothes are bulkier. Even your feet feel like lead. Throw in the weight of a major championship, and the bone-chilling breeze that cut through Champions Golf Club out of the north on Monday had everybody carrying a few extra pounds.
But nothing weighs more than a broken heart.
On Saturday night – after Amy Olson played herself into the final group, a shot off the lead in the 75th U.S. Women’s Open – she got the call everyone dreads. Her father-in-law, Lee Olson, died suddenly and unexpectedly. Grant Olson, Amy’s husband, was with her in Houston, a surprise trip that neither had expected early in the week. With testing protocols and policies concerning contact tracing, Amy thought she was leaving her family at home for this major. Then she led after the opening round, bolstered by an ace on the par-3 16th hole, and Grant decided to make the trip. But before he left, he went hunting with his dad, a memory that will stick with him for the rest of his days.
On Sunday morning, after a fitful night of tears and tough decisions, Olson spent some quiet time with her caddie, Taneka Sandiford, on the back of the range hitting chips and putts. When she arrived near the clubhouse for full-swing warmups, a couple of friends, including Ally Ewing, hugged her and offered loving but wholly inadequate words. Olson held it together better than most.
Then the skies opened on Sunday and play was called.
When she came back on Monday, Olson seemed supernaturally calm and at peace, a presence that she attributed to her unwavering faith. “The Lord carried me through today,” she said immediately after signing her final-round card. “I definitely didn’t have this strength on my own.”
The Olsons are arguably the most famous couple in Fargo, North Dakota. Grant and Amy were star athletes at North Dakota State – he was a linebacker on the football team and she was a phenom of women’s golf, holding the all-time NCAA record with 20 collegiate victories. They were married in 2017. Today, Grant coaches linebackers for his alma mater, the defending FCS national champions, and Amy is one of the most popular players on the LPGA Tour.
It would have been the Christmas story of the decade if she had won on Monday. And Olson did everything you normally would expect to get the job done in a U.S. Open. After three early bogeys in the final round, two that came from three-putts on the enormous Cypress Creek Course greens and one from a shoved tee shot, Olson rallied with two birdies on the front nine and made the turn with the lead. Under those circumstances, coupled with wet fairways and a wind-chill that felt like 25 degrees, an even-par final nine is usually good enough. But not this time. Olson made seven pars, a bogey and a birdie on the toughest nine holes on the property, and lost by a shot to A Lim Kim, who birdied the final three holes to get to 3-under par.
But even coming up a shot short, Olson won the day.
“Coming out this morning I had no idea what to expect,” she said. “It just makes you realize how much bigger life is than golf. ... I had Josh Groban's song You Raise Me Up in my head, particularly the part where it says, ‘You raise me up to walk on stormy waters.’ So, that was kind of what was going through my head today.”
Then she talked about her father-in-law.
“We had a really special relationship,” Olson said. “He’s a big, tough, military West Point guy. Loved the Army. But he had a particular soft spot for the women in his life, particularly his wife and daughter-in-law. And just incredibly generous. He loved to hunt and fish. We’ll have a lot of great memories to take from those activities, doing those with him.”
On Wednesday of last week, when a world of promise shone down in the warm winter sun, Olson and Ewing played a practice round together. They are best friends on the LPGA Tour and attend Bible study together. As she walked toward the ninth green that day, Olson asked another friend about the outward professions of faith among different athletes.
“Some journalists ignore it when we bring it up and some put it out there,” she said. “I find it interesting when I see it and when I don’t. And I wonder a lot of times what the reaction is when people read about (our faith).”
They won’t have to read about it this week. If you watched golf on Monday, you saw it – fully, deeply and richly. Amy Olson might have come up short on Monday at Champions. But the Lord who walks with her – the one she praises with a firm voice every day; the one who blesses those who mourn, for they shall be comforted – he, as always, came away victorious.
In the end, that’s all Amy Olson ever really wanted.