Mention the U.S. Open, Myrtle Beach and professional golf and most people think of Dustin Johnson, but Haylee Harford hopes to add her name to the list of thriving professionals with ties to golf’s most popular destination.
When Harford, who has emerged as one of the Symetra Tour’s best players, finished the Garden City Charity Classic with a disappointing 77 on May 2, she had little idea one of the highlights of her still fledgling professional career was just days away.
The Symetra Tour rookie quickly departed Garden City, Kansas en route to Southern Pines, N.C., for a 36-hole U.S. Open Qualifier on May 4. Though tired from playing and traveling, Harford finished the first 35 holes at Mid Pines Golf Club in -2 before a severe thunderstorm halted play for the day.
“When the horn sounded I did not (know where I was on the leaderboard),” she said. “Once the weather delay came, I checked my phone and I was pleasantly surprised.”
With one hole remaining, Harford, who was competing with more than 70 players for three spots in June’s U.S. Women’s Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco, was in a four way-tie for second place.
Make birdie on the 340-yard, par 4 ninth hole (her 18th) the following morning and her ticket to the biggest event in women’s golf would get punched; make par and she advanced to a four-way playoff for two spots; we all know what bogey meant.
Her surprise after seeing the leaderboard quickly gave way to a racing mind, but she was able to extend her AIRBNB reservation by a night and, perhaps aided by fatigue, got a good night’s sleep.
“I went through my warmup like I normally would,” Harford said of her preparation to play one high-stakes hole. “I knew there was a chance of going to a playoff and I didn’t know how long it would last, so I wanted to be as prepared as I could. We teed off at 8 a.m., so I got there at 6:45 a.m. and went through as if it was just another round.”
A good, conservative drive left her with a wedge in hand and dreams of birdie on No. 9, but her approach came to a rest on the front part of the green, 30 feet from hole. A nervous putt left her a dicey 6-footer for par.
Thoughts of birdie mere minutes ago gave way to shaking hands and the reality that one putt stood between her and the continuation of a dream. Harford overcame her nerves and drained the clutch putt to advance to the four-way playoff.
After everyone made par on the 392-yard 18th the first time around, Jaravee Boonchant and Natalie Srinivasan stuck their approaches to approximately seven feet playing the hole for the second time.
Harford told herself she needed to make birdie to have a chance to stay alive.
This time she hit a perfect wedge and heard the crowd clapping at the green.
Boonchant and Srinivasan missed their putts.
Harford converted from just outside tap-in range to earn her spot in the 2021 U.S. Open field.
“I called my dad and told him,” she said. “It was an emotional moment. He is the one who started me (playing golf) and we talked about this moment for a very long time. It was definitely very sweet to do that.”
Then the Ohio native loaded her bags and headed to Myrtle Beach, where she was on the range at Legends Resort the following day, working with her longtime coach, Ted Frick, the owner of Classic Swing Golf School.
As Harford’s game quickly improved as a junior, her coach in Ohio realized his young star needed another instructor to help her fulfill her vast potential and recommended Frick. A summer vacation in Myrtle Beach that doubled as an audition for Frick has turned into a relationship that spans more than 10 years.
In college, Harford starred at Furman University and now, when she isn’t on the road, she is based out of Myrtle Beach.
“Ted and I are in communication almost every day,” she said. “Especially since I turned pro, I’m here whenever I’m not traveling, working with him. I’m fortunate to have the relationship with him that I do.”
Harford’s U.S. Open appearance will be her first in a LPGA Tour event, but she has the game to compete. While still considered a Symetra Tour rookie after playing a pandemic shortened schedule in 2020, Harford is currently 12th on the money list (top 10 earn their LPGA Tour cards) and has five tops 10s in her last 12 starts, including a runner-up finish in the IOA Golf Classic.
The U.S. Women’s Open might be the first time she plays against the world’s best women’s golfers, but her game suggests it won’t be the last.