Laura Diaz is back.
Friday, the 1999 LPGA Tour rookie made her season debut at the ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer. The 43-year-old wasted no time getting back into the groove and opened with a bogey-free, 5-under par, 66 to take the early lead on day one at Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club. The veteran leads a pack of major champions lurking just one-stroke back, including Lydia Ko, In Gee Chun and Pernilla Lindberg. Sandra Gal and Su Oh also went out in the morning wave and sit one-back at 4-under par.
“The last few years have been hard, so I came out with a little bit different perspective last year and just tried to play a little bit more relaxed,” Diaz said after her round.
The two-time LPGA Tour winner didn’t plan to play this week in New Jersey. She was scheduled to play the pro-ams and decided to see if she could get into the field. Before teeing in up in Monday’s qualifier, she found out Saturday she was in the field. Diaz played a practice round Monday and the pro-am on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Her round on Friday was just her second competitive round of the year. The U.S. Women’s Open qualifier was the only other competitive golf she’s played in 2018.
“I got a little taste at the Open,” Diaz said about getting her competitive juices flowing again. “I think it’s always fun to compete. I miss it.”
This week, Diaz has her 12-year-old son, Cooper, on the bag. His mother says there’s still “room for improvement,” like keeping her ball clean, but he did succeed in fulfilling a much larger role. Cooper’s presence kept his mom calm. Controlling her nerves has been a challenge for Diaz over the last several years as she’s limited her playing schedule on the LPGA Tour. She missed the entire season in 2016 after she broke her leg at the beginning of the year.
“The last few years they really seemed to get to me more, so I think my biggest challenge is figuring out how to not let them get to me,” said Diaz. “He’s a huge asset in that because I can focus more on him than me.”
TaylorMade outfitted Cooper with a special bag that’s easy for him to carry. And if Diaz can remain focused on her son, he could help carry her to her first top 10 finish on Tour since 2014.
“Regardless of the lead, not the lead, I’m very happy with how I played,” said Diaz. “It’s more special because I have my son with me.”