LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament
LPGA International- Champions & Legends Courses
Daytona Beach, Florida
First-round Notes and Interviews
November 28, 2012
Kathleen Ekey (@KTEkey), Kim Welch (@MissKimWelch) and Moriya Jutanugarn all shot 4-under 68 to take the first-round lead at the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament. Both Ekey and Welch opened the week on the Champions Course while Jutanugarn got her strong start on the Legends Course.
Ekey, the 2011 Symetra Tour Player of the Year, started her round on the 10th hole and carded five birdies and dropped on bogey on No. 16. Ekey was a rookie on the LPGA Tour in 2012 and made three cuts in 15 starts.
Welch, who won Golf Channel's Big Break: Ka'anapali, went off the10th as well and posted birdies on Nos. 17, 7 and 9. She eagled the par 5 18th before she made the turn and followed it up with her only bogey of the day on No. 1. Welch finished 10th on the Symetra Tour money list in 2008 to earn conditional status for the 2009 LPGA Tour season. She made four starts, making her only cut at the CVS Pharmacy LPGA Challenge where she tied for 70th. She played on a sponsor exemption for the second time this year at the Navistar LPGA Classic but missed the cut after posting rounds of 71-73.
Jutanugarn got off to a slow start on Wednesday and posted a bogey on the par 5 second hole and did not card her first birdie until No. 8. She went on to get three more on Nos. 9, 12, 14 and 16 to finish 4-under for the day. The first-stage medalist is in her first attempt at qualifying for the Tour.
The trio holds a one-shot lead over Rebecca Lee-Bentham and Ashleigh Simon who finished with 3-under 69's. A group of fourteen players are tied for sixth at 2-under 70 including 2011 NCAA individual champion Austin Ernst, Rolex Rankings No. 19 Chie Arimura and two-time LPGA winner Laura Diaz.
Gone with the wind: A bit of unexpected wind played a factor in Wednesday's first round of the LPGA Qualifying Tournament but Kathleen Ekey had nothing to worry about. Ekey, who moved to Palm Beach, Fla. last year said her course provides plenty of practice in gusts a breezy conditions.
"I play out of Bear Lakes Country Club and we always joke that if it's windy at my house and I live two minutes from the beach, it's always windier at Bear Lakes," said Ekey. "It's like this wind tunnel. I'm so used to playing in the wind now; it's nice I get to practice out there and get used to it."
The 2011 Symetra Tour Player of the Year wasn't exactly fazed by the wind and said her practice has left her more prepared for it.
"You obviously have to think about it a little more and hit different kinds of shots," said Ekey. "But I definitely feel more comfortable with it. I've always been a decent wind player but I think that just made me even better. It's almost, you don't even notice it anymore."
Aside from perfecting her play in the wind, Ekey faced plenty of other challenges in her first year on the LPGA Tour this season. She's a self-proclaimed perfectionist which made it extremely difficult to deal with her struggles during her rookie campaign.
"I had such a good year in 2011 and I set high expectations for myself which is I guess part of my personality," said Ekey. "I've thought a lot about it, what I did wrong in 2012. I have these highly perfectionistic tendencies and part of it's my personality. I was a ballerina when I was young and ballet is perfect. Golf, maybe to an extent, is some but obviously you can't always try to be perfect."
Ekey made three cuts in 15 starts and recorded a season-best T45 at the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic Presented by Korger, Owens Corning and O-1. Trying to prepare for her first Q School experience wasn't easy and she tried to accept her swing instead of nit-picking at the intricacies of it.
"The past few weeks I've been trying to say to myself, ‘this is your golf swing, this is what it is,'" said Ekey. "I'm going to try and not think about it and go out there and hit shots. And I think I did a pretty good job of that today."
Help me, help me! First-stage medalist Moriya Jutanugarn should have had plenty of confidence heading into Final Stage of Q School this week but some struggles during practice leading up left her calling her coach, Craig Chapman, back in California for some advice.
"I had a lot of problems with my swing before here," said Jutanugarn. "I was getting nervous before the round today. I hit everything so bad. I was calling my coach every day."
Jutanugarn arrived in Daytona Beach early last week to get some extra looks at the course and said she drove it a few days to ease off her swing.
"Once I started practicing, I tried to call my coach every night and be like ‘oh my god I need your help,"' said Jutanurgarn. "He would give me some drills and I would work on it at the range."
She 18-year old Thailand native has played well at LPGA International and finished in the top spot at First Stage of Qualifying back in September. She got off to a slow start today but found her pace more than halfway through the front nine.
"I had a bogey on number two and I thought ‘ok just keep going,'" said Jutanugarn. "Then I missed a putt on No. 5 from four feet and then I said ‘ok Moriya what's happened?' But after the first six holes I feel like my game was getting better. I think my putting worked; that's why I had five birdies."
After the nerves ceased, and now has one solid round under her belt, the teenager feels more comfortable heading into the rest of the tournament. But she knows there's a lot of golf to be played.
"I feel a little bit more comfortable because I finished under par today," said Jutanugarn. "But everyone else will have a chance because there are four more days. I'm trying to stay focused and play my game."