The fury of the LPGA Qualifying Tournament is off to another blistering start, as five players are tied for the lead after the first round of play at LPGA International.
With 20 full-time LPGA cards up for grabs, five players carded a 4-under par on day one including Sherman Santiwiwatthanaphong (Buengkan, Thailand), Anne Van Dam (Arnhem, Netherlands), Nasa Hataoka (Ibaraki, Japan), Hyemin Kim (Seoul, South Korea) and Gabriella Then (Rancho Cucamonga, California). Overall, 29 competitors (representing 15 countries) fired 1-under or better.
“This course is maybe a little bit easier, but today with the wind it didn’t play that easy,” said Van Dam, who played the Jones Course and is currently No. 177 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. “I’m still happy to get a good round under par on this course. Every round under par is always good for Q-School.”
The consensus from many of the players is that the Jones Course at LPGA International is more open than the Hills Course and therefore, more gettable. You wouldn’t be able to tell that by looking at the Wednesday scores, however, as 19 of the 29 players who shot under par played the Hills Course in the first round.
Santiwiwatthanaphong, Kim and Then each earned their share of the lead on the Hills Course on Wednesday, while Van Dam and Hataoka played the Jones Course.
“I didn’t think about the course today, I just tried to play shot-by-shot,” said Santiwiwatthanaphong, one of the 72 individuals in the field this week that held LPGA status in 2017. “I didn’t think about anything, just do my routine. Try to hit it on the green because I don’t like the rough here. It’s hard to shape.”
For Then, it was her first time playing the Hills Course in tournament play. That may have allowed her to relax and not overthink, but she said it was actually watching the movie “Bend it Like Beckham” the night before round one that made her eager to get on the course.
“I gave myself a lot of good birdie opportunities out there,” Then said. “I was hitting my approach shots really well and I was placing myself in good positions. Overall, that went well the entire day.”
Four days remain in the hunt for an LPGA card, as the grind that is qualifying school has only just begun.
“Playing five days you get tired, so I try to keep focusing my mind,” said Hataoka. “Every single day, I just have to focus on every single day.”
There were some surprising numbers after the first round. Georgia Hall, the top ranked player in the field at No. 41 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, scraped her way to a 5-over par, 77 on the Jones Course. Meanwhile, Linnea Ström, No. 9 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Rankings, finished at 8-over on the Hills Course.
KIM HOPING TO MAKE THE NEXT STEP
Lauren Kim (Los Altos, California) is back in Daytona Beach at final stage eager to improve her professional status. A three-time Women’s Golf Coaches Association First-Team All-American at Stanford (2014-16), Kim played her way into conditional status on the LPGA in 2017 by finishing tied for 29th at final stage last year.
She would go on to primarily play Epson Tour in 2017, making 20 starts and finishing 38th in the Volvik Race for the Card standings at season’s end.
Kim noted that she has grown tremendously since last year, while learning how to adjust to life as a professional golfer on the official qualifying tour for the LPGA.
“Trying to handle all of the travel and everything, playing week after week after week is really tough.” Kim said. “I think just learning how to deal with that, learning how to deal with little bumps in the road along the way. Kind of thinking on my feet and in the moment and staying in the present are all things that I’ve done this year. Just enjoying it. It’s easy to say that it’s really hard and traveling every week is really tough, but I have some great friends out here and we love traveling together, and it’s been really fun.”
Kim will need to again finish within the top 45, and ties, this week to secure LPGA status for 2018. She missed the cut in both of her two starts and earned no official money as an LPGA rookie this year.
MAKING THE JUMP
Ladies European Tour winner Anne Van Dam is on a mission to earn her 2018 LPGA card. The Netherlands’ native is off to a good start on that pursuit as she is tied atop the leaderboard at 4-under par after the first round.
In October, Van Dam finished tied for fifth at Stage II to earn her spot at this week’s Final Stage.
Now the 22-year-old is in top form as she just wrapped a full season on the LET, nabbing four top-25 finishes in her last five starts, including a season-best tied for third, two weeks ago at the Hero Women’s Indian Open.
“The good thing is, on the LET the last period we had a lot of tournaments, so I got into quite a good rhythm and started really picking up good form,” Van Dam said.
“For me, it was nice to bring some confidence in. Seeing myself in the top-10 a few times in the last few tournaments on the LET going into here makes me feel quite calm,” added Van Dam. “There are a lot of good girls here and a lot of golf left. So, at least if you can see you’re up there, it gives you a lot of good confidence.”
HATAOKA NOT GETTING AHEAD OF HERSELF
2017 LPGA Tour rookie Nasa Hataoka got off to a hot start on Wednesday. With just two bogeys on the card, Hataoka enters the second round tied for the lead at 4-under par.
When asked how her day was, the shy 18-year-old simply said, “It’s a really good start.”
In 2016, at age 17, she was the youngest player in the field at the Final Stage of the LPGA Qualifying Tournament, where she finished tied for 14th to earn LPGA membership for the 2017 season. Hataoka returns after finishing at No. 140 on the official money list in her maiden LPGA season, earning $37,852.
Having played this event before, Hataoka is more relaxed this week, especially with her mom here to watch, which she can only do about three times a year.
Though she is in a good position through 18 holes, Hataoka’s not getting ahead of herself as she knows the five-day tournament can be a grind.
“Well, it’s only one day,” she said. “Total five-day tournament so it’s not really comfortable yet. I just need to keep going.”
- Field: 165
- Par: 72
- Format: 90-hole stroke play; cut after 72 holes to low 70 players and ties
- Hills Course Yardage: 6,566
- Jones Course Yardage: 6,449
- What’s at Stake: Top 20 earn full LPGA status; 21-45 and ties earn conditional LPGA status