U.S. Women's Open is a home game and a reunion for Texas' Kaitlyn Papp, Agathe Laisne
Like every other part of 2020, Kaitlyn Papp’s preparation for the U.S. Women’s Open included something nontraditional: a graduation ceremony. Not surprisingly, she didn’t walk. Instead, the Texan pulled up a Zoom link and watched the ceremony from home. She already received a cap and gown from the university and everything.
Papp finished off her degree in physical culture and sports from the University of Texas in 3 1/2 years, a notable feat for the two-time first-team All-American who owns two individual titles as a Longhorn.
This week, the former Lake Travis star is making the second U.S. Women’s Open start of her career, after playing the 2019 USWO at the Country Club of Charleston. She played her way into that event, but this year, her selection was at the mercy of the World Amateur Golf Rankings.
The rankings, she knows, are updated every Wednesday morning. On Nov. 4, she woke up and checked them first thing. She needed to be inside the top 20, and she was No. 19 — safely in.
“I was definitely eye-balling it most of the summer and the fall because you can’t really control the rankings,” she said. “You just try to play as well as you can and play in the tournaments. It was definitely a little nerve-wracking the last couple weeks because at the time I was kind of on the bubble for making it.”
It has been difficult to find events to compete in this year. Papp, who plans to return for another semester of college golf in the spring, finished in the top 25 at the Texas Women’s Open and made match play at the U.S. Women’s Amateur. She also competed in the ANA Inspiration, teed it up twice with her Texas team and, on a lark, took a road trip to Louisiana with her dad to play the Atchafalaya Challenge, a Women’s All-Pro Tour event in Louisiana.
“It was probably like a seven-hour drive from Austin to there,” she said. “... Just decided to play and not have expectations and just use it as a warmup for the U.S. Open. I played really well out there so it was a good confidence booster.”
Papp played a U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifier at Champions before she ever arrived in college. She hasn’t seen much of the place otherwise.
There are other Texas connections, though, in the form of people. Papp will have Texas assistant coach Kate Golden on the bag in Houston. Golden, a former Longhorn, played 18 years on the LPGA and competed in more than 30 major championships.
Papp was a high school teammate of LPGA sophomore Kristen Gillman. The Austin natives still play together when they’re at home – often competing in friendly matches with just pride on the line (no trash talking) or maybe lunch. Gillman was exempt in the field as a top-75 player in the Rolex Rankings.
Papp is one of 24 amateurs in the field, 20 of whom were selected based on their World Ranking. Teammate Agathe Laisne made that list as the No. 12 amateur in the world.
The USWO was a bit of a reunion for Papp and Laisne, who has a third teammate, Hailee Cooper (with whom Papp teamed to win the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball) on the bag.
Laisne went home to France in March when COVID lockdowns began, and this is her first time back.
“I went home, I was quarantined for two months,” she said. “Didn’t do golf, just studying and being with my family. It was hard because I live in a small apartment. It was different, no golf for two months.”
Since late July, however, Laisne has made several competitive starts around Europe. It hasn’t been all that warm lately where Laisne is competing, and if temperatures dip in Texas — or if the wind kicks up — Laisne figures she might be at an advantage.
“I guess I always kind of knew I was good in the wind, but I realized more when I was in Texas because it’s always windy, and I would always play a little bit better with the field when it was windier and rainy,” she said.
Laisne was ranked around No. 50 in the WAGR mid-summer when Texas head coach Ryan Murphy put the U.S. Women’s Open idea in her head. She hadn’t been thinking about it much, but Murphy thought if Laisne could get a win in Europe, it might boost her high enough to get the exemption.
It worked. Laisne won two Ladies European Tour Access Events — the Lavaux Ladies Open and the Santander Golf Tour Lauro — and was third at the European Ladies’ Amateur. She was even penalized at the latter for pulling a yardage marker out of the ground — a violation under COVID rules.
Laisne reports her wedge game is strong and that she got on a run of good putting back home. Good timing for this big finale to a stop-and-start year.
“I just will play my best,” she said, “and try to have fun.”