GOLD CANYON, ARIZONA | Sophomore blues are a myth. At least that’s what you hear when you talk to the second-year players on the LPGA Tour, many of whom are making their 2023 debuts at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club in the LPGA Drive On Championship.
In the morning wave of the first round, there was the usual cadre of rookies putting up decent numbers – innocents who have yet to miss a cut or run a P&L report at the end of a month. A few of them even worked their way into the top-20 by mid-afternoon in Arizona, all with smiles and waves, youngsters on a playground.
But, it’s the second-year players you want to watch, those who went through the rookie meat grinder in 2022 – learning where their games stood week after week against the best in the world on the toughest golf courses they had ever played; learning how to travel and budget and eat and train in different cities, different countries, different time zones and weather conditions; learning how to pace themselves with a schedule that has more stops and starts than the Indy 500 – and survived to play another season. Those were the players who had the most impressive days.
“I’ve been striking it really well and trying to keep the momentum going,” said 2022 rookie Morgane Metraux, who shot 3-under par on Thursday morning. Metraux was a bubble player last November at The ANNIKA driven by Gainbridge at Pelican, the last full-field event of the year. She needed a solid weekend to finish inside the top 100 on the money list and avoid a trip to LPGA Q-Series. A good Sunday put her on the right side.
“After that, I went to Spain and played on the LET where I lost in a playoff (to Linn Grant),” Metraux said. “Then I went home (to Switzerland) because my sister (Kim, an LET player) got married in January. I hung out there for a while and then I played a couple of LET events this year in Morocco and Saudi just so I didn’t go so long without any competitive rounds.
“Once I got back (to Florida where she’s based in the U.S.) I just worked on shaping some shots and staying as sharp as possible.”
Even more sharp on Thursday in Arizona was LPGA sophomore Maddie Szeryk who fired a 5-under, 67 early. The Canadian hit 13 greens and made only one bogey in a round that left her near the top of the leaderboard.
“I started off birdie-birdie and made a nice little nine-footer on the first hole,” Szeryk said. “Just started out really steady, and then I felt like, later on in the front nine, I was just forcing it and just trying to make the birdies instead of just letting them happen.
“I changed my mentality walking off of 10 tee and almost chipped in for birdie on 10. Then I had some good birdies.
“I knew that I had worked ready hard in the off-season and I just had to let it happen in order for it to happen.”
That hard work included hiring a trainer and expanding her workout routine.
“I worked out a lot,” she said. “I got stronger and in better shape. But also, the environment isn't as overwhelming now, being out on tour. It's not, ‘Oh, my God, what's happening?’ I just felt more prepared and I knew what to work on. Short game was huge. My wedges are a lot better.”
Narin An matched Szeryk’s pace with a 67 of her own, carding seven birdies, four of which came in her first five holes. She faltered with a pair of bogeys late, but hung on for the bumpy ride, closing with three pars to put herself in contention early.
They weren’t alone. Sophomores Stephanie Kyriacou, Ayaka Furue, and Gina Kim all had solid starts. But they also know that’s what it is – a start. There are 54 more holes in this event and many more weeks hereafter. You have to be patient and keep a round, good or bad, in perspective.
They know that now. They’ve been here before. They’re sophomores.