DAYTONA BEACH, FLA, December 2, 2016 - Nasa Hataoka (Ibaraki, Japan), the second youngest player in the field, posted a 69 on Friday to grab a one-shot lead after three rounds of Final Stage of LPGA Qualifying Tournament at LPGA International. Hataoka has made 17 birdies through 54 holes for a total of 14-under, 202. She is one shot clear of Jaye Marie Green (Boca Raton, Florida), who posted a 67 in the same group as Hataoka to stand at 13-under, 203. Olafia Kristinsdottir (Reykjavik, Iceland) is in third place at 9-under, 207 after a 67 on the Hills course.
Hataoka, who will be 18 on January 13, made just one bogey on the ninth hole. She made two birdies over her final four holes.
“It is cool to see my name at the top of the leaderboard,” said Hataoka through a translator. “I don’t want to get greedy, but I want to get to 20-under. I really want to work on my course management over the final two days.”
Hataoka’s coach is Gareth Jones, who is from Australia, but began working with the national team in Japan about a year ago. He sees a lot of Minjee Lee, a three-time LPGA winner, in Hataoka.
“I really like her game,” said Jones, who is on the bag for Hataoka this week. “I’ve seen a lot of Minjee Lee as she has been growing up and Hataoka is holding the same club head speeds as Lee is. Hataoka needs to get as strong as Lee and work hard in the gym, but Nasa is naturally strong. She is great fun to work with.”
Jones said Hataoka hits her drives on average 260 yards, which is long compared to other Japanese players.
“She is hitting it very strong this week, but she was maybe hitting it slightly stronger 12 months ago,” said Jones. “When we came over here for the Spirit tournament in Houston and I first saw her she was smashing it.”
Even Green, who has played on the LPGA for the last three years, was impressed by the young Japanese star.
“She’s about to be 18 and I thought she was my age, she handles herself very well,” said Green. “She’s just like a little silent assassin. She hits it so good and she has a good head on her shoulders.”
Green and Hataoka are the only two players in the field with three rounds in the 60’s. Green is now 42-under in eight rounds at Final Stage of LPGA Qualifying Tournament between 2013 and 2016.
“My goal is definitely to win this,” said Green, who took medalist honors in 2013. “Now with me and Nasa so close I can focus on trying to beat her instead of looking at the whole top 20. It will definitely help take my mind off the top 20.”
Hataoka is trying to become the first Japanese player to medal at Final Stage of LPGA Qualifying Tournament since 2005 when Ai Miyazato won at 17-under, 343.
Her mom, Hiromi, named her Nasa after the space program NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) because she wanted her to accomplish a lot and dream big.
SADENA PARKS REVERTED BACK ‘TO WHAT GOT HER TO TOUR
Sadena Parks (Scottsdale, Ariz.) posted a 5-under, 67 on the Jones course to move to 8-under, 208 through three rounds. She is tied for fourth.
“Today was a great day,” said Parks. “I realized yesterday when I was 3-under through nine holes that I was hungry for more birdies and hunger doesn’t help much. It is not a good way to approach golf so I took a different approach today. I tried to stay consistent when I got on a roll.”
Parks made seven birdies on the day including a stretch of four in five holes to end the front nine and back-to-back birdies to punctuate her round at the end.
The 26-year-old said she is playing a lot looser this week. That was evident when she started dancing on the third tee box.
“I am definitely a lot looser and it is great to have Chris on the bag,” explained Parks. “He keeps me loose and we talk about things that make me laugh. I bring up some things and he is OK with my stupid humor. We have a great time out there. Once I get uptight and tense, things tend to go downhill.”
The former University of Washington star graduated from the Epson Tour to the LPGA in 2014. She finished No. 100 on the LPGA money list in 2015 to avoid Q-School, but was No. 111 on the money list in 2016.
“I think I realized that you have to just stick to what you know,” explained Parks. “I was doing a lot of tweaking and changes and now I’m going back to what was working and what got me out there (LPGA) in the first place.”
EPSON TOUR WINNER WEARN IN GOOD POSITION
Laura Wearn (Charlotte, N.C.) hasn't had the breakout round she was looking for just yet, but she is T27 after rounds of 71-72-71.
“I’ve played pretty well, but I’ve left shots out there,” said Wearn. “Hopefully I can make more birdies the next two rounds. It has been a little frustrating, but it is great to give myself a chance with two rounds left.”
Wearn, who played college golf at Furman, showed tremendous improvement on the Epson Tour in 2016. She picked up her first win at the Gosling’s Dark ‘n Stormy® Classic and finished 32nd on the money list. In 2015, she did not compete due to back surgery. Two years ago, she finished 100 on the money list and earned just over $5,000.
- Olympian Nicole Broch Larsen posted a much-needed 66 on the Jones course to move from T80 to T19.
- Demi Runas has posted three rounds of 71 and is T19 at 3-under.
- Vicky Hurst withdrew on the 13th hole of the third-round. No reason was given for her withdrawal. She was 3-over on the day through 13 holes. Hurst will retain LPGA Tour status as she finished No. 101 on the money list.
- Beth Allen, the Ladies European Tour (LET) Order of Merit leader, posted a 4-under, 68 to move up to T10.