The LPGA and Epson Tour Qualifying Tournament Stage II leaderboard is overwhelming, as eight players share the top spot after 18 holes. A cold front coming through Venice, Florida, with large gusts of wind, made players stiffer than usual, intensifying the already tight competition.
Yue Ren, Seulki Lee, Natthakritta Vongtaveelap, Karen Chung, Nataliya Guseva, Becca Huffer, Sherman Santiwiwatthanaphong, and Maria Stackhouse completed 18 holes at 3-under par and have a one-stroke lead over the rest of the field.
Ren was able to keep her name amongst the leaders, despite three bogeys on the day. The China native carded six birdies throughout the round and rated her game off the tee a 99 out of 100. While it always feels good to be in the lead, Ren takes every moment as it comes and keeps positive.
"I'm not thinking about the score," said Ren. "I just hit my shot. Tomorrow, if it's still windy, 'oh, okay.' If it's still cold, 'yeah, okay.' I just keep positive."
For Chung, who carded four birdies and a bogey-free back nine on the Panther Course, consistency is key this week. With four rounds of golf and pressure already high, the New Jersey native tries to treat the week like any other tournament.
"I just feel like it's not about who can go the lowest this week; it's just about who can stay more consistent," said Chung. "So that's my game plan for the week, and we'll see where that puts me."
Stackhouse's round-one plan was to maximize every shot and opportunity, which she proved successful on the last hole. After landing in a bunker just behind the green, the Stanford University graduate nearly holed out for birdie.
"I said [to myself], 'get some birdies, capitalize on opportunities, and minimize error'," said Stackhouse. "That was literally my focus for the day. I wanted to hit as many greens as possible and just be putting. That's just what I focused on the whole way around. Any time my approach shot didn't execute, I just didn't get upset with myself. Let's just go try to make up and down."
Epson Tour members in the top 10 include Ren (-4), Chung (-3), Huffer (-3), Santiwiwatthanaphong (-3), Stackhouse (-3), Kaitlin Milligan (-2), Sarah White (-2), Lauren Cox (-2) and Mariel Galdiano (-2). A total of 42 players shot even par or better.