Friday evening at the River Course at Kingsmill Resort, the leaderboard looked starkly different compared to the first round. Eight new players filled the top-10 spots. Former leader Wei Ling Hsu was the only player from Thursday who managed to stay within the top-10 after shooting one-over par 72 to sit two strokes behind the new leader, Australian Sarah Kemp.
“It was great. Had a really good warmup. I just felt really good,” said Kemp who said she slept great the night before. “And sometimes you just feel like you're going to play well, and it was one of those days. Hit some great shots. Made some putts. I didn't miss a whole lot of fairways. Probably had under 30 putts, and that leads to 4-under.”
On Kemp’s coattails were Americans Stacy Lewis and Jessica Korda with respective scores of 69 and 67. Champion of the 2021 Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions, Korda even carded two eagles on two separate par-5’s.
“Obviously the eagles help. If you take those eagles away, I would've shot even par today, so eagles always help,” said Korda.
Also at 5-under par is rookie Ana Belac, who was the 2020 Player of the Year on the Epson Tour.
Two of the five players tied for fifth at 4-under par represent the Republic of South Korea including Rolex Ranking No. 3 Sei Young Kim and 13-year LPGA Tour veteran Haeji Kang while another two represent Thailand including 2018 HUGEL AIR PREMIA LA Open champion Moriya Jutanugarn and six-year LPGA Tour veteran Wichanee Meechai, with one Taiwanese player Wei-Ling Hsu also at minus 4.
Kemp, who had the round of the day with six birdies and two bogeys, didn’t realize she had shot until she got into the scoring tent. “I asked my caddie, ‘what did we shoot?’” she said.
Those unfamiliar with the 35-year-old Australian haven’t been paying attention. She has 12 worldwide professional wins and while she has yet to break through on the LPGA Tour in 13 seasons, Kemp has seen her game improve dramatically in the last year.
“I really turned my putting around at the end of last year,” she said. “I worked really hard. I was annoyed because I had hit the ball great for a couple years and I just didn't convert the opportunities.
“I worked really hard on my pace and like today, the pace of my putts has been really good. I'm getting it three feet past (the hole), which I like. That's a good putt. Have a go. So, just putting really, because I feel like I've hit the ball the same for a couple years now.”
Kemp can’t remember what year it was when she teed off in the final group on a Saturday, but she remembers the event. “It was in Toledo at the Marathon Classic,” she said. “I remember I shot 8-under par on Friday and was in the final group on Saturday. I was very nervous. I remember it well. That's the last final group I was in, which had to have been a very long time ago. So, that's not a good thing.
“Here is another one, so that's good.”