LPGA Tour Rookie Jennifer Johnson fired a career-low, 7-under 65 to take sole possession of the first-round lead at the Navistar LPGA Classic on Thursday. Johnson shot a back-nine 30 to take a one stroke lead over 16-year-old Lexi Thompson.
Johnson was even par through eight holes but a birdie on the ninth helped propel her to the impressive back-nine score when the afternoon groups had to fight very windy conditions. She had four birdies over her final nine holes but the highlight was an eagle on the par-4 15th when she holed out from 150 yards with a 6-iron.
“It was pretty windy,” Johnson said. “I was trying hit like a 150‑yard shot. I hit my 6‑iron like I was trying to land it on the front. I thought it wasn't going to be enough. I was like yelling at it to get up, and then it just kind of curved right in the hole and I was happy.”
A Heart of Gold… Johnson is playing for a lot more than herself at this week’s Navistar LPGA Classic. The LPGA Tour rookie has committed to donating half of this week’s winning to this year’s tournament beneficiary, the Wounded Warrior Project.
Johnson is well on her way to earning the Wounded Warrior Project a significantly large paycheck after a blistering 7-under-par opening round. Looking to improve on a career best tie for 12th finish at this year’s CN Canadian Women’s Open, Johnson currently holds a one-stroke lead.
Johnson, who began the season with Category 20 status, has moved her way up the list via some good play and the reshuffle. Johnson has made six of nine cuts this year with a season-best tie for 12th at the CN Canadian Women's Open. She currently sits No. 70 on the LPGA money list.
On Tuesday, Johnson played a practice round with two Wounded Warriors - Dan Nevins and Joe Caley - both who suffered brain injuries in Iraq. Nevins continues to play golf despite the loss of both his legs. Both Wounded Warriors were on hand during Friday’s first round to watch Johnson take the lead for the first time during her LPGA career.
“That's some extra motivation this week,” Johnson said of her pledge to donate half of her earnings. “Hopefully I can keep it up and give a bunch of money to those guys.”
Inaugural round: Capital Hill’s Senator Course re-opened for play on Sunday morning for the first time since it was closed for renovations on June 1. So who got the chance to hit the first shot on the revamped course? None other than Lexi Thompson, who sits in second after shooting a first-round 66.
Thompson said that she drove with her father to Alabama on Saturday and arrived at the golf course around 8 a.m. on Sunday morning to get a first look at the changes that were made, including the resurfacing of all 18 greens and a redesign of the par-5 fifth hole.
“This course is amazing right now,” Thompson said. “It's in perfect condition for us. I was the first to hit a shot out here, so there was no divots or ball marks.”
Thompson, who hit all 18 greens in regulation during the first round, had seven birdies on Thursday while playing Capital Hill’s Senator Course and the lone blip on her scorecard was a bogey on the par-3 13th hole. Having hit 12 of 14 fairways to go along with her 18 greens in regulation, Thompson was asked if this round ranks as one of her best.
“It's definitely up there,” said Thompson, who won the first stage of LPGA Q School this summer by 10 strokes. “I mean, like I said, I just focused on one shot and thought about tempo. Just do that for the next three days and hopefully it'll all go well. But, you know, it was just a great day. I had a lot of fun. I had a great group with Belen and Jane. Just an overall good day.”
This week marks Thompson’s eighth start on the LPGA this season. Her best finish in those starts this season was a T19 at the Avnet LPGA Classic in Mobile, Ala., which is also played on one of the courses on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.
In the hunt: There are a number of players trailing not far behind Johnson, including Rolex Rankings No. 1 Yani Tseng and No. 2 Suzann Pettersen who are among a group of eight players at 4-under-par.
Tseng played in the morning and was one of the players who was able to take advantage of better scoring conditions. But Tseng was not completely pleased with her round after she finished with two straight bogeys, three-putting each of her final two holes.
“I was very disappointed,” Tseng said. “I miss a lot of putts. I had three 3‑putts today. I hit lots of greens, but I just couldn't make that many putts and hitting the second shot. But hopefully next three days I can have more putts.”
Justin Bieber watch out! There is a new Youtube sensation taking over the world wide web and it’s none other than the LPGA’s own Tiffany Joh. While Joh boasts an impressive professional golf resume and is tied for fifth at the Navistar LPGA Classic after shooting a first-round 68 on Thursday, some might be surprised to know she is quite the talented musician. Joh’s first video, “She Beats It” went viral when it was premiered during last week’s Golf Channel telecast of the NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G.
Joh, who resides in San Diego, California, released her second video at this week’s Navistar LPGA Classic Presented by Monaco RV titled “Grip It”. Since being released on Tuesday, the video has gone viral with 1,329 views on Youtube. The video features several LPGA stars showcasing their dance moves including Beth Bader, Jenny Suh, Alison Walshe, Jeehaee Lee and Meredith Duncan.
Birdies for a cause: This year's Navistar LPGA Classic Presented by Monaco RV is going above and beyond to help raise funds for this year's beneficiary, the Wounded Warrior Project. The 152-yard par-3 16th has been designated as the "military hole". Navistar will donate $100 for every birdie made during this year's tournament to the Wounded Warrior Project. Over the past four years, the hole has averaged 83 birdies. In addition, a member of the military will be on the green to tend the flag during tournament play.
During Thursday’s first round the 16th hole notched 15 birdies which raised $1500 for the Wounded Warrior Project.
Q. What a back nine for you. Take me through what kind of turned on the switch, and how did you get things going?
JENNIFER JOHNSON: I don't know, I mean, you know, started out kind of slow for me. Had a birdie on the first hole, and then I 3‑putted on three. So I was like, okay, it's going one of these this kind of days. Then I fought my way through some good pars and then birdied 9 and just got it rolling from there. And the eagle definitely helped on 15.
Q. Can you take me through that eagle? What did you hit?
JENNIFER JOHNSON: Yeah, my drive I was ‑‑ it was pretty windy. I was trying hit like a 150‑yard shot. I hit my 6‑iron like I was trying to land it on the front. I thought it wasn't going to be enough. I was like yelling at it to get up, and then it just kind of curved right in the hole and I was happy.
Q. Not a bad way. Talking with the other players, Suzann Pettersen was talking about how tough the wind was this afternoon. To be able to turn it around like that and shoot what you did, especially on the back nine, do you feel pretty proud of yourself with these conditions.
JENNIFER JOHNSON: Yeah, well, I mean, a lot of tournaments this year we've had wind, like Canada, so that was some good practice. I don't know. I just thought my caddie and I played pretty well, played the wind pretty well.
Yeah, good round.
Q. We all know about your donation. You've already pledged to donate half your winnings to the Wounded Warrior project. To be able to come out and post a number like this and be the first‑round leader, how good does that feel?
JENNIFER JOHNSON: Yeah, I'm pretty excited. That's some extra motivation this week. Hopefully I can keep it up and give a bunch of money to those guys.
Q. Coming out this late like this ‑ this morning the conditions were so nice ‑ do you get jealous of what they had to go through?
JENNIFER JOHNSON: Yeah, before I started I was wishing I was done because it was so windy. But you know, you never know what can happen.
MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome Lexi Thompson into the interview room. Congratulations on your 6‑under 66 today.
ALEXIS THOMPSON: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Can you just take me through the round a little bit and tell me what it is about this course that seemed to suit your game today.
ALEXIS THOMPSON: Yeah, well, I just played pretty consistent today. You know, just focused on one shot at a time. I dropped some putts, so that went for me. You know, I just focused on one shot and didn't get ahead of myself.
MODERATOR: You got to come out and play this course before pretty much anybody else did. What was it like? I know we talked about the shape of this course and all the renovations they've made, but what did you notice right away and how was it?
ALEXIS THOMPSON: This course is amazing right now. It's in perfect condition for us. I was the first to hit a shot out here, so there was no divots or ball marks. So it was just like so pure, and still is obviously.I just love coming to this tournament. It's one I look forward to every year.
Q. You played well the last time you were in Alabama at Avnet back in April. Is there something about these Robert Trent Jones Trail courses that seem to fit your game?
ALEXIS THOMPSON: Yeah, I really like 'em. I get to hit a lot drivers, so that's an advantage to me. It's just a great setup, and they're always in great condition for us.
Q. I know it's been a busy summer for you. In addition to playing LPGA Tour events and overseas, you've also just went to Q‑School and played the first stage and one by 10 shots. What was that experience like, and what are you taking heading into the second stage of Q‑School that will be coming up later this month?
ALEXIS THOMPSON: Well, going into first stage was kind of crazy. I just came back from France and went straight there, so, I mean, it was a little hectic. Just went out and free swung and it went my way. I had a lot fun with my dad, and, you know, same thing here. Gave me a lot confidence heading into this tournament.
Q. If you qualify, are you still under the age limit?
ALEXIS THOMPSON: If I qualify, I can be a full‑time member, yeah.
Q. What day was it when you hit the first shot?
ALEXIS THOMPSON: I think Sunday. Yeah, we drove up, took the whole day, and then played Sunday morning I think like around 8:00 or something like that.
Q. So you hit 18 greens. Where does this round rank for you?
ALEXIS THOMPSON: Well, it's definitely up there. I mean, like I said, I just focused on one shot and thought about tempo. Just do that for the next three days and hopefully it'll all go well. But, you know, it was just a great day. I had a lot of fun. I had a great group with Belen and Jane. Just an overall good day.
Q. (No microphone.)
ALEXIS THOMPSON: I definitely left some out there. You're going to miss some and make some. You just have to be patient. I mean, if you're hitting the greens and getting close, you just have to hope that they fall eventually. You can't get impatient, because then you'll start hitting it bad.
Q. This is a significant tournament for 17‑year‑old Janie Jackson from Huntsville, Alabama. She was saying this morning she was just ridden with nerves. She I got in the hazards a little bit, but she said she really looks up to you despite the fact that you're younger than she's. She said you're one of her role models. How would you encourage her being a younger golfer among some of the best in the world trying to take in this really, really good opportunity and build on it?
ALEXIS THOMPSON: I actually talk to her on Facebook, so I keep in touch with her. I think she said she was trying to qualify, but I guess she's pro now.
Q. She did qualify on Monday but as an amateur.
ALEXIS THOMPSON: Oh, okay. So, yeah, I mean, I was nervous in my first pro event too. It was the Open when I was 12. It was crazy.
I would just have to say you have to take one tournament at a time. If you don't do well, you've just got to go to the next one. You can't get one bad shot or hole in your head, because then you're just going to go downhill. You have to keep on going to the next one.
Q. Do you have get over the initial nerves? Is there ever a point where that starts to level off and you're able to clear mindedly think about your game?
ALEXIS THOMPSON: Well, first shot usually I'm a little nervous. I would think that's typical for everybody. It just shows that you care that much. You're going to get nervous. After the first shot I'm good to go. Just remember to breathe and just free swing.
Q. So just live and learn?
ALEXIS THOMPSON: Yeah, pretty much. You got to get through it, so it's all learning experience.
Q. Congrats on the round today. Just take me through what was working for you out there today.
ALISON WALSHE: Yeah, I went out there and made three birdies I think in the first four holes. That got my confidence going right off the bat. And then I just kept ‑‑ I think I hit it pretty long, so I had a lot of wedges in my hands on the front nine, so I took advantage of that. And then I just turned to the back nine and just held it together and made a couple birdies finishing. So it felt good. I was hitting it good and making some good putts.
Q. Thoughts on the course? Is it one that suits your game well?
ALISON WALSHE: Yeah, I mean, I think length, especially today with some of the wind, you can cut off a lot of holes if you have a long carry distance and stuff. We were actually commenting on that. On the front nine I don't think I hit more than an 8‑iron ever. The greens are pretty receptive, so, I mean, you can kind of attack more pins. So I think length is a bit of an advantage out here.
Q. Is this one of your top rounds of the year?
ALISON WALSHE: No. I don't know, to be honest. I have no clue. (Laughter.)
Q. You're an Arizona graduate, right?
ALISON WALSHE: Yeah.
Q. Do you have any advice for the high schooler that's going to Arizona?
ALISON WALSHE: Yeah, I was talking with her earlier this week. She shot 70 to qualify and she's got good game. She's so excited. She's Tweeting and everything, bear down, to me and Natalie and stuff. So no, I just told her the fact that she's already Monday qualifying is as a senior in high school, that's good enough. I'm excited for her.
Q. What do you think about how your score might stack up at the end the day?
ALISON WALSHE: Yeah, it got windy about our fifth or six hole. There will be some low scores out there regardless of the wind. There are some good players left out there and there are some low numbers. I don't know, I bet I'll be kind of near the top, but I bet someone will have a low round out there today.
Q. Suzann was talking about how tough it got in the afternoon with the wind really picking up. You still managed to birdie the last three.
BECKY MORGAN: Yeah, actually started off pretty badly and kind of gave myself a bit of a talking to. I was 2‑over (indiscernible) 5. Not playing very well. Had a three putt and I just turned it round. Actually made a great putt on 6, chipped in on 7, and then just kind of rolled in a few putts.
Hit some really good shots. I hit it really good on the back nine. I hit it I think three feet on 18, probably, I don't know, 18 feet on 17, and three feet on 16. So it was a bit easier.
Q. We've been hearing from other players about the wind picking up. Did it not bother you at all?
BECKY MORGAN: No, I mean, it did. I just actually started hitting it better so it wasn't a factor as much. On the front nine I didn't hit it very well so obviously it was going all over the place.
But I putted really well today. My caddie and I have been working on a few things, and it kind of paid off. It was good.
Q. Feel pretty good to be able to come out in the afternoon with these conditions and shoot a round like this?
BECKY MORGAN: Yeah, I mean, especially after the first five, because I was kind of on the wrong side of par and not playing very well. Made seven birdies coming in from then, so pretty was happy with that.
Q. When you're giving yourself a good talking to, how rough can that get?
BECKY MORGAN: There was a few choice words. Just kind of was a bit ‑‑ I don't know, sometimes I need to give myself a bit of a kick in the bum to change things around. My caddie was like, Calm down. I'm like, No, I got to get it out and then I'll be okay.
Q. 4‑under. Still a good day. I know not the finish you wanted, but still can you come away from this round pretty happy about how you played?
YANI TSENG: No, I was very disappointed. I miss a lot of putts. I had three 3‑putt today. I hit lots of greens, but I just couldn't make that much putt and hitting the second shot. But hopefully next three days I can have more putts.
Q. Is that something this afternoon that you would want to work on? Is that the one thing that you think can help out for the rest of the three days?
YANI TSENG: I stroke pretty good. Yeah, maybe. And then the wind kind of get stronger the back nine a little bit and kind of swirling a little bit, so it's very harder adjustment. Then just didn't finish the way I wanted to finish. Two bogey in a row last two hole, so I was really disappointed.
Q. Still, two shots off the lead after day one. You put yourself in a good position.
YANI TSENG: Yeah, not bad. But I think lots of people going to shoot 4‑under, 5‑under, 6‑under. It's only first day, so three more days to go. I'm still looking forward, so hopefully get some more birdies in next three days.
SUZANN PETTERSEN: It was tough. It was windy. The greens are so fast. You have a heart attack on every putt. You're just really trying to not mess up on the green. Some of the trickiest greens I've played on all year, especially with the bermuda. The speed obviously doesn't make it that much better.
But played pretty good. Hit my iron shots. Had a lot of good chances. It was good. Had one good par save and that was about it, so 4‑under today was good.
Q. A lot of the low rounds have come in the morning. Seemed a little tougher this afternoon.
SUZANNE PETTERSEN: I don't think the wind was up this morning, and it's been steady now all since we tee'd off. So hopefully we can get the better side of the draw earlier in the morning.