The first round of the LPGA and Epson Tour Qualifying Tournament Stage I has come to a close. The 305-player field battled the heat at three different courses for their first 18 holes, with temperatures reaching into the 100’s. Each player will have a different mindset on how to attack the four-day tournament, with experience and confidence playing a significant factor in the decision-making for the day. Leading the way are a pair of amateurs who are looking to have a place to play for the 2024 season.
Anna Morgan is playing in her first career LPGA and Epson Tour Qualifying Tournament and is leading the way after a six-under 66 that included eight birdies on the Arnold Palmer Course. Morgan had a successful amateur career at Furman University, winning the SoCon Female Athlete of the Year and SoCon Player of the Year in 2022 and 2023. She also competed in two Augusta National Women’s Amateur events and earned three event wins during her 2023 season. Now looking to transition to the pro game, Morgan is heading in the right direction and fast.
“It was just a lot of fun out there,” said Morgan. “I’ve kind of been nervous all week and was really just excited for the tournament to start. I love tournament golf and being competitive. Once I teed off, it felt like I was at home, and the nerves went away, which was a good thing.”
Tied at the top is Jensen Castle, who has had an impressive amateur career. The University of Kentucky Wildcat took home the 2021 U.S. Women’s Amateur while enrolled, making multiple All-SEC and All-America teams along the way. Castle is also making her first appearance at Stage I; in fact, she is staying with Anna Morgan, whom she currently shares the lead with at six-under. It may be her first qualifying school experience, but Castle feels right at home.
“I hit the ball really solid and just stayed really calm,” explained Castle. “It is really cool to be here and see a lot of the girls I played in amateur golf. I feel like if this was one of your first big events, it could be very intimidating because you don’t know anyone, and then people start posting good scores. So, it was really cool to see the same people and just get comfortable.”
Charlotte Liautier is part of the group who signed for a five-under 67 after a bogey-free round at the Palmer Course. The Frenchwoman is also making her first start at Stage I but is familiar with professional golf, having secured her card in 2022 for the Ladies European Tour (LET), even winning on the LET Access Tour as an amateur in 2021. Now Liautier is trying to find her footing in the States, and she is off to a strong start.
“Honestly, the start was really tough because it was a bit stressful out there,” said Liautier. “I just tried to focus in on every shot and stay present throughout my round. I was able to do that and have a good day, and I am proud of that.”
Annika Clark (-4, T9) on how her experience at Stage I helped her in the first round:
“This is my fourth year here, so I feel super comfortable on these courses, especially Dinah, since we play it twice. I know all the lines, I understand the pin placements, and I just feel really good on that course. So, I felt pretty good when I saw that was my first course, and I was able to put up a good round.”
Emily Lauterbach (-3, T20) on drawing off her previous success at Stage I:
“This is my third time at Stage I but my first time as a professional. I didn’t play well my first time out, but it was still a great experience. Then, last year, I came out and shot 7-under, so that was a big confidence booster heading into this week since I had to come back. I’m excited to try and keep it going.”