Alison Lee matched her low round of the year on Thursday at the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship, carding a seven-under par, 65 to take a three-stroke lead on day one. The world No.44 leads a group at four-under par including Anna Nordqvist, Jeong Min Cho, Karine Icher, In-Kyung Kim and Lizette Salas.
“I gave myself a lot of chances at birdie. Putting was definitely one of my strengths today,” Lee told the media. “It's definitely what helped me shoot 7-under. I made have a lot of good birdie putts. I think I only missed one or two putts inside 15 feet.”
Lee sits atop the leaderboard for just the second time this season and the first time since January’s Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic where she held a share of the first round lead. It’s been a difficult season for the 2015 rookie, who after playing her way onto the victorious U.S. Solheim Cup Team last season, has struggled in her second year on Tour. Lee’s balancing act between playing a full schedule on the LPGA Tour along with continuing her pursuit of a Communications degree at UCLA has been well documented. But this year Lee also dealt with injury, undergoing physical therapy to cope with a torn labrum in her left shoulder which resulted in five consecutive missed cuts between April and May.
“It definitely, it hurt a lot, a huge portion of my mental game. I was struggling a lot on the golf course not only because of my injury, but because I was scared. I was scared of the ball. I didn't know where it was going to go,” said Lee. “But I am very happy with where my game is now. Top 10 last week, and past couple months I've been playing a lot better and being on the leaderboards. Definitely happy with where my game is now.”
Lee has continued to trend upward in recent weeks, posting three top-10 finishes in her last six starts.
Defending champion Lexi Thompson posted an opening round two-under par, 70 to sit five-strokes back of the lead. Thompson played in the final group alongside Se Ri Pak who is playing in her final event on the LPGA Tour this week in Korea. Pak announced her retirement in February and played her final event in the United States in July at the U.S. Women’s Open. Both times Pak said the reality of her decision has yet to set in, but Thursday it all hit her.
“This morning I did a practice round and I was on the tee box and didn't really hit me that this was my final round. But then I saw the gallery and all the people had scarves my name on it. A lot of them came out for me, and during the game they told me what a good job I was doing and good job I did,” Pak told the media. “That's when it all really hit me that this was going to be my final round. I feel that the way they were supporting me was different kind of. Before they were supporting me as a competitor in this game. It felt kind of different. So I will have to say that during the game it was an emotional roller coaster for me.”
Players gathered around the 18th hole to wait for Pak, including former world No.1 Inbee Park who hasn’t competed since capturing the gold medal in Rio in August, and met the Hall of Fame member with hugs and tears following her final round on Tour.
“In terms of retirement, I think there was a part of me that was relieved and part of me that wanted to stay on,” Pak said. “At this point I am really thinking about what I could have done more in my career. It's actually very difficult to describe in words what I'm feeling right now.”
Click here to watch a tribute to Pak.
World No.1 Lydia Ko struggled on day one, carding a three-over par, 75 to match her highest round of the season.