Seconds after Amy Olson’s birdie putt on the 18th hole of the final round of the 75th U.S. Women’s Open dropped, she pumped her right fist in the air, then picked up her golf ball out of the cup and raised her head toward the sky.
On Monday, standing next to her caddie, Taneka Sandiford, on the side of the green, the 28-year-old Olson began to cry. As tears fell onto her cheeks, Olson closed her eyes, her head held high. At that moment, everything paused for her.
Less than 48 hours before the final round, as Olson contended for her first career victory after going pro in 2013, her father-in-law, Lee Olson, died unexpectedly.
“Coming out this morning, I had no idea what to expect,” Olson said after her round Monday. “I felt very weak and helpless the last couple of days. … I really believe the Lord just carried me through. It makes you realize how much bigger life is than golf.”
Finishing 2 under, Olson tied for second in the 147th start of her LPGA career and her fourth U.S. Women’s Open. One stroke back from winner A Lim Kim, Olson didn’t win, but she also didn’t lose.
Throughout her final round, Olson said the lyrics of “You Raise Me Up” ran through her head. With every swing, every putt, every mental and physical hurdle, she repeated the lyrics: “You raise me up to walk on stormy seas.”
In 2017, Amy (nee Anderson) married Grant Olson in North Dakota. The couple met in college at North Dakota State University, where they remain two of the most decorated athletes in the school’s history. Grant, a former football player and the current linebackers coach at his alma mater, traveled to Houston over the weekend to watch his wife compete for the title, but he returned home to be with his mom and brother on Sunday after the death of his father.
When asked about her father-in-law in her post-round news conference, Olson said that they shared a “special relationship” and that he had a “particular soft spot for the women in his life, particularly his wife and daughter-in-law.”
Olson’s major finish illustrated to the world what it looks like to “walk on stormy seas.”
After shooting an even-par 71 on Saturday, Olson entered the final round at Champions Golf Club just 1 stroke off the lead of Hinako Shibuno. While many in the field struggled Saturday to find pars, let alone bogeys, due to the muddy and challenging conditions, Olson fought. Making two bogeys in her first six holes, she slid down the leaderboard, but she didn’t give up. Every shot felt like a grind. The biggest challenge on the course was mud balls caused by unpredictable Houston weather, yet Olson found herself near the top of the leaderboard and one day closer to finally winning on the LPGA Tour.
Hours after finishing her third round, Olson would learn that mud balls on the golf course and unpleasant weather were the least of her worries heading into the final round. On Sunday morning, she appeared on the golf course with her caddie. The news had spread of her father-in-law’s death, and many questioned whether Olson would tee it up for the final round.
When heavy rain suspended play Sunday, causing the first weather-induced Monday finish in the U.S. Women’s Open since 2011, questions continued to be raised as to whether Olson would play the final Monday round, especially after it was reported that her husband had returned home.
At 10:35 a.m. Monday, Olson teed off in the final group.
For 18 holes, she dug deep. And it showed. In the first four holes, she made three bogeys. Then she birdied back-to-back. Maintaining a hold over the leaderboard for hours, Olson caught herself slipping after a bogey on the 16th hole.
For four hours, she showed the world that she wasn’t giving up. No matter what the leaderboard showed, she was putting up a fight for her husband, her family and, most of all, her late father-in-law.
When Olson’s final putt dropped in the 18th hole, her face said it all. That moment was an exhale of the past 48 hours. This time, she didn’t win on the course. But she finished. She finished on a strong note that concluded what will probably be one of the most challenging tournaments of her life. That finish was triumphant enough.
“I knew I had to stay very mentally disciplined just to get through the day,” Olson said in the post-round news conference. “I allowed myself to think about what I’m grateful for, and I’ve got a long list.”
Since turning pro in 2013, Olson has been chasing victory. In 2018, she found herself in the final group on Sunday at the ANA Inspiration but ended up tying for ninth after shooting a 72. Later that year, she led by 1 stroke headed into the Evian Championship’s final hole. But after carding a double-bogey, she lost by one. In February, Olson captured another second-place finish after finishing 3 strokes back of Inbee Park at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.
At the start of this week’s U.S Women’s Open, Olson appeared to be the front-runner. In the first round, she captured the attention of the golf world by making an ace on the 16th hole. She maintained that momentum through the third round. It was difficult not to think about Olson hoisting the trophy. When news of her father-in-law’s death circulated, it seemed like maybe this would be the tournament that Olson finally won.
Instead, when Kim birdied the final three holes of the final round, the U.S. Women’s Open title was all but decided. As Olson’s hold on first place began to fade, it still seemed like she won. Kim’s victory happened in her first appearance in a major championship, an impressive accolade, but Olson’s finish was impressive in its own right.
Olson showed what resilience in the face of heartbreaking loss looks like, the type of resilience that so many of us have discovered this year. She demonstrated what it means to show up during tumultuous times, the kind of showing up that so many of us can be inspired by after this year. Olson proved that you can find the light in the darkness, something so many of us need now more than ever.
This year, more than ever, sometimes a win isn’t defined as finishing first. Sometimes a win means showing up and finishing strong — just like Amy Olson did.