Under blazing skies and with the usual Texas breezes not a factor, Amy Olson made easy work of her round on Thursday morning. The sixth-year LPGA Tour player, still looking for that elusive first win, carded seven birdies on Thursday, with a three-putt bogey at No. 15 the only blemish on an otherwise smooth round of 6-under 65.
“I didn't get myself really in much trouble and the putter was working,” said Olson, who is playing in her fifth Volunteers of America Classic but first since it moved to Old American Golf Club in 2018. “These greens can be a little tough because sometimes the grain doesn't match the slope perfectly, so trying to read them can be a bit of a challenge, but it was fun to see some putts go in the hole.”
Olson’s 65 was the best round of her 2019 season. She had previously shot 66 four times, most recently in the first round of last week’s Indy Women in Tech Championship. If Olson can earn a top-10 finish this week, she would have four top-10s and tie 2018 for the most top-10s in a season in her career.
MONDAY QUALIFIER CARTER BALANCING COACHING AND TOUR LIFE
Dori Carter said her round may have felt like a roller coaster, but she had a ball being able to play the Volunteers of America Classic. Carter, who reached the tournament via the Monday qualifier, recorded nine birdies, a bogey and a double bogey to sit in a tie for second after the first round at -6.
“It was fun. I had a couple big putts that hit the pin and thank goodness it hit the pin. Kind of on a day like that the way things are falling, they're always kind of falling in your favor kind of,” said Carter. “You just have to enjoy it. I think I learned late on in my career that those days don't happen very often. I kind of laughed some off and then I kind of really fought back after a bad hole. So it was kind of a really emotional round, up and down, but still, it was a blast.”
Carter’s emotion? Balancing a Tour life and transitioning into her new job as assistant coach for the University of Louisville women’s golf team. She said this week’s motivation stems from proving to her new students they can do anything.
“I also can think of the nine girls on our Louisville team who are watching every minute of my score, so I'm playing for them,” said Carter. I want them to see that it's possible and that if you work hard, you can come out here and you can play well.”
TEXAS NATIVE CHEYENNE KNIGHT RIDING HOMETOWN ADVANTAGE
After shooting a first-round 66 at the Volunteers of America Classic, Cheyenne Knight said she has been waiting for this tournament since becoming a 2019 LPGA Tour rookie. “I played a practice round here like two weeks ago and [I’m] just super excited because I think the community really embraces it,” said Knight.
In 2016, the Aledo, Texas, native claimed one of two collegiate spots in the Volunteers of America Classic when the event’s sponsor exemptions included four winners from an amateur play-in competition. Knight, then a freshman at the University of Alabama, made her LPGA debut in front of throngs of friends and family, making the cut and finishing T29.
Knight said she felt the hometown support, joking that the reason for an early-round eagle was because her high school golf coach finally made it to the course. “A lot of my friends and family came out today and watched and it was really special. I always play well in the heat close to home. It was special,” said Knight. “This week I really have nothing to lose, so that's what I keep telling myself. I have everything to gain, nothing to lose, that's my mentality. Definitely having my family and friends and getting to stay at home is an extra treat.”
Knight said she knows this week is crucial for her career. She is currently No. 120 on the Official Money List; players ranked No. 101-150 and any ties go to Q-Series, the two-week, eight-round tournament in Pinehurst, N.C., to better their LPGA status. Even with the pressure to maintain her full LPGA Tour card, the former SEC Player of the Year said she feels a strong finish on the horizon this week.
“Something really clicked last week in my ball-striking and that's kind of been like my detriment all year,” said Knight. “Even though I finished like 60th last week, I'm like really trending in the right direction. So I'm just trying to get some momentum. If I go back to Q Series or I'm putting my foot on the pedal, I have nothing to lose, so that's the game plan.”
LIU BATTLES THROUGH ILLNESS, CARDS LOW ROUND OF LPGA TOUR CAREER
We’ve all heard the saying “beware the injured golfer.” Substitute sick for injured and you have today’s round for Ruixin Liu. The 2019 LPGA Tour rookie, who won the Symetra Tour’s Volvik Race for the Card in 2018, carded a 5-under 66 on Thursday for the best round of her Tour career. The 20-year-old from the People’s Republic of China sits tied for fourth heading into Friday’s second round, just three strokes behind leader Stephanie Meadow.
“I don't feel really good this week,” said Liu, who is battling a lingering infection related to an allergy problem diagnosed earlier this year. “I'm pretty sick, so I don't have that much of an expectation today before I go. I kind of just attacked the pins, all 18 holes. So I think that's probably why I have a lot of birdie chances today.”
After starting on No. 9, Liu was 1-over through seven holes. She pointed to a 6-foot eagle at No. 17, this week’s Aon Risk Reward Challenge hole, as the moment that kickstarted her hot round.
This was also the perfect time for Liu to return the best round of her career. She sits 121st on the LPGA Tour Money List with $68,450 in 2019 earnings and is facing a trip to Q-Series later this month if she cannot reach the top 100 on the Money List.
Rolex Rankings No. 12 Stephanie Meadow (63)
- Meadow’s first-round 63 is the lowest round of her LPGA Tour career; her previous best was 66, which she shot three times, most recently in the second round of the 2019 Marathon Classic
- She hit 13 of 13 fairways and 15 of 18 greens, with 26 putts
- This is the first time in Meadow’s career that she has held the lead following any round
- This is Meadow’s fourth season on the LPGA Tour; her best finish is solo third at the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open, in her professional debut and as a non-Member
- Meadow was a LPGA Tour rookie in 2015; after a stress fracture in her back derailed her career in mid-2017, she returned to the Symetra Tour for 2018, where she had one victory and regained her LPGA Tour card via the Volvik Race for the Card
- This is Meadow’s 21st event of the 2019 LPGA Tour season; her best finish is 11th at the Marathon Classic presented by Dana and the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, where she teamed with Giulia Molinaro
- She is competing in her second Volunteers of America Classic; she missed the cut in 2017
- Meadow won the LPGA Tour’s 2015 Heather Farr Perseverance Award in 2015; her father Robert was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer at the beginning of the season and Meadow left the Tour for three months to help care for him before his death in May 2015
- Meadow represented Ireland at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, where she tied for 31st
Rolex Rankings No. 47 Amy Olson (65)
- Olson’s 65 is the lowest round of her 2019 season; her previous best was 66 which she shot four times, most recently in the opening round of last week’s Indy Women in Tech Championship
- Her 65 is also tied for the second-lowest round of her LPGA Tour career, behind a first-round 63 at the 2018 CME Group Tour Championship
- She hit 10 of 13 fairways and 16 of 18 greens, with 28 putts
- Olson is in her sixth season on the LPGA Tour; her best finish is a tie for second at the 2018 Evian Championship
- This is Olson’s 21st event of the 2019 season; she has three top-10 finishes, with a best result of T5 at the HSBC Women’s World Championship
- She is competing in her fifth Volunteers of America Classic; her best finish is 14th in 2014
Rolex Rankings No. 772 Dori Carter (65)
- Carter’s 65 is the lowest round of her 2019 season; her previous best was 66, which she shot in the second round of the Marathon Classic
- She hit 12 of 13 fairways and 14 of 18 greens, with 26 putts
- Carter is in her ninth season on the LPGA Tour; her best finish is sixth at the 2014 Volunteers of America Classic, where she shot her career-best round of 63 in the second round
- This is Carter’s 22nd event of the 2019 season; her best finish is a tie for 23rd at the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give
- She is competing in her seventh Volunteers of America Classic; her best finish is sixth in 2014