A relaxed Reynolds thrives at Open

BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Jean Reynolds doesn’t stick out of the crowd here at the U.S. Women’s Open. She doesn’t wear flashy clothes or travel with an entourage. If she didn’t have one of those player badges around her neck, you might mistake her for your next-door neighbor. On the course, she chats about movies and music more than pin positions and wind direction.

Staying relaxed and having fun is priority No. 1 for Reynolds. That’s why after an opening 2-under 69 Thursday at Saucon Valley, she was on the range hamming it up with a childhood girlfriend she calls “Butters” and her caddie named “Paulie.”

No swing instructors. No mental gurus. No agents.

“That’s Jean,” said Elisa Powell, aka “Butters,” who has known Reynolds “since we were born” in Newnan, Ga. “She’s never been just all golf.”

Lately, however, this golf thing has been working out pretty well. Or as Reynolds might say in her Southern accent, “My, Lord; yes, sir.”

Reynolds, 24, is No. 1 on the Duramed Futures Tour money list. In her second year as a pro, she has won twice, posted seven top-10 finishes in 10 events and has banked more than $63,000. She’s making her second appearance at the Women’s Open. She missed the cut last year. This year, she’s on top of the leaderboard alongside names such as Kerr and Ochoa.

“She’s 5-feet-2 and a buck-20,” caddie Paul “Paulie” Maggiore said. “She hits it 250 off the tee. She’s not afraid to go at pins. Her short game and putting is tremendous.

“Everyone loves her. She’s the little Georgia peach. She’s mild-mannered and sweet, and then she’ll go have a beer with you after playing. Everyone loves her.”

If those things aren’t enough to love about Reynolds, here’s something else:

After being recruited to play at Georgia, Reynolds decided early during her freshman year that the grind of college golf wasn’t for her. She wanted to be a normal college kid. Reynolds stopped playing golf for a year and a half and pledged a sorority with Butters. The pair lived in a room with four other girls at UGA’s Alpha Delta Pi house as sophomores. Later that year, she studied abroad for six weeks in Austria. On the weekends, Reynolds and her friends went to Bulldogs football games. If the team had an away game, they’d pack the car and make the drive. She missed only two games in four years in Athens.

“For me, it was the right decision,” Reynolds said. “What keeps me grounded is my friends.”

When graduation drew near, Reynolds, a child and family development major, began to remember how much fun she had on the golf course. At the 2002 U.S. Girls’ Junior, she lasted 22 holes with eventual champion (and defending Women’s Open champ) Inbee Park before being defeated in the quarterfinals. It was her competitive spark that was missing.

After graduating from Georgia in 2007, Reynolds finished fifth at Futures Tour Q-School and earned full status for ’08. She posted two top 10s and finished 46th on the money list that season, but began devoting more time to her game in the offseason. As the leading money earner this year, she has a firm grip on her LPGA card for next year. In fact, if she wins again on the Futures Tour this season, she will receive a “battlefield promotion” to the big leagues.

And so far at Saucon Valley, she’s playing like a veteran. On the 555-yard par-5 12th, Reynolds faced a tricky shot from a greenside bunker to a hole cut on a slick slope.

“She comes over and calls the shot,” Maggiore said. “She said, ‘I’m going to hole this out.’ ”

And she did. Bottom of the jar.

She followed with a birdie on the par-4 14th to move to 3 under. She bogeyed No. 15 and then parred in, missing an 8-footer for birdie on No. 18 that would have given her a share of the lead with Na Yeon Choi.

After lunch, Reynolds, Butters and Paulie headed over to the range to hit a few balls. Reynolds showed off her distance, peeling back and ripping a few drives at a tiny flag in the distance.

Anna Nordqvist was two spots to her right. Paula Creamer set up to her left. Lorena Ochoa walked by.

Before teeing up another ball, Reynolds looked back at Butters, who was smiling as she looked at the packed driving range. Reynolds laughed at her best friend.

“She’s clueless to what’s going on right now, and I love it,” Reynolds said. “That’s why I love that she’s out here.”

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