On Thursday, patience paid off for Christina Kim, who took the lead on day one of the inaugural LPGA Volvik Championship. Travis Pointe Country Club in Ann Arbor, Michigan is a relatively unknown venue for players, but Kim seemed to figured it out quickly, opening with an eight-under par, 64 to finish the day one-stroke shy of the course record. Kim leads Ariya Jutanugarn in solo second at seven-under par.
“You know, it's just a matter of being patient and not being necessarily too aggressive,” Kim told the media. “There are certain holes where I was like, I can walk away with a par and I'll be fine with that. Several par 5s were reachable, which I thought was a nice change to most of the tournaments we play on the LPGA Tour, and I think the officials did a great job of setting it up. But it was out there. I wouldn't be surprised if someone gets me by two by the end of the day.”
The first round 64 is a season best for Kim and her fourth sub-70 round of the season. It's also her lowest round since the 2014 ShopRite LPGA Classic. The 2003 rookie is a three-time winner on the LPGA Tour, her most recent victory coming at the 2014 Lorena Ochoa Invitational after going without a win for nine years.
“Yeah, I've been out here too damn long to really ‑‑ of course it is still frustrating when you're not necessarily being rewarded for the work that you're putting in out here but golf is not a game of ‑‑ you know, golf never gives you anything, it never lets up,” said Kim. “So I just figured all I can do is continue to try and play my best, and at the end of the day as long as I can go home exhausted knowing that I've tried everything that I could to play a good round, then that's all I can do.”
The veteran currently holds a one-stroke lead ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn, who posted a bogey-free seven-under par, 65 on day one. Kim has served as a mentor for Jutanugarn and is in no way surprised at the success she’s had in recent weeks, winning the last two events on Tour.
“You know, she's been playing like this since she was 17 years old. I think that for her it was just a matter of breaking the shell and getting over that first hump and getting that first win, and she is going to be just an absolute world beater,” Kim said about Jutanugarn. “I think that hopefully Ariya will soon see the kind of golfer that we all see her as, which is terrifying.”
“She's very, very, very nice person,” Jutanugarn had to say about Kim. “She great. Last year I played bad and she the only person come and talk to me like, Keep going, May, you good player. She's such a nice person.”
May is Jutanugarn’s nickname in her home country of Thailand. She is currently one of four multiple winners so far this season, but a win this week would make her the first three-time winner of 2016 and first to win three consecutive events since Inbee Park in 2013.
“Today a little bit windy on the back nine and I just have to control my ball flight today, and my tee shot pretty good, my iron was good today,” Jutanugarn told the media. “I think today I make some putts. I think it's very hard to read the green here because a lot of slope. “
The wind may not prove to be much of a challenge for Jutanugarn this week with both of her wins coming in gusty conditions at both the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic and Kingsmill Championship.
Also going out in the morning wave along with Park and Jutanugarn, Minjee Lee and So Yeon Ryu carded opening rounds of four-under par, 68 to sit four back of the lead. Marina Alex is also T-3 at four-under par. Azahara Munoz, Sakura Yokomine, Sadena Parks and Samantha Richdale are T-6 at three-under par.
With her start this week, Inbee Park is now just one event removed from qualifying for the LPGA Hall of Fame. Park struggled to a 12-over par, 84 on day one and withdrew following her round. The world No.2 released a statement earlier in the week about her ongoing struggles with a left thumb injury that has forced her to withdraw from multiple events this season including last week’s Kingsmill Championship.
“Well, it was a torture out there today, but even if I don't get to play tomorrow, I really wanted to finish it off today and just ‑‑ I just didn't want to give it up in the middle of the round like last week. So that was really the main goal,” Park said after her round. “Obviously I'm just really restricted on my swing, to make a couple movements it's painful. “
Park’s statement outlined her plans to play both this week and at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in two weeks before seeking additional medical advice. Park is the three-time defending champion of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and with her 10th start expected to come at the event she would meet the final qualification for induction into the LPGA Hall of Fame.