On a beautiful day in Midland, Michigan, one team from over 60 groups participating in the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational emerged to claim the first-round lead, and their names should be familiar to those who followed the team event in 2022. Finnish player Matilda Castren and Malaysia’s Kelly Tan partnered up for their second consecutive year to compete as Team FinAsia. Last year, they made a run for the title, finishing runner up and five shots behind champions Jennifer Kupcho and Lizette Salas. Now, they’re back as if they never left. The pair got off to a slow start on day one, carding only two birdies on their front nine, but Castren and Tan heated things up on the back nine starting with a birdie on the par-3 13th hole. From there, the duo birdied three of their last four holes to wrap one of the four bogey-free rounds that Midland Country Club saw on Wednesday.
“Yeah, I felt like I was way more comfortable today than last year the first round, but I think that helps, and also knowing those good memories And, you know, you go up to the hole, and you kind of are saying, oh, last year I chipped in from here and stuff like that. You have those good memories, so that helps with -- actually calms me down and makes me happy and excited all day,” said Tan, who has been close friends with Castren since their days of traveling together on the Epson Tour. “I felt like we gelled really well today, honestly. She struck the ball so good. I had the chance to make the putt. And, I mean, I think vice versa. We both played pretty good today. There's no complaints.”
Behind Team FinAsia are three teams at five-under, including Celine Boutier and Yuka Saso, Celine Borge and Polly Mack (Team Mackle Borge), and Paula Reto and Amelia Lewis (Team Hotshots). Boutier and Saso remained steady throughout the day to post another bogey-free round, while Borge/Mack and Reto/Lewis carded one bogey each on their back nines.
“I think it worked out really well. Whenever one was missing, the other one was making up for it, and I feel like, yeah, Yuka had some really solid par putts, especially in the middle of the round and stuff, so that really kept us going, and it worked out really well today,” said Boutier, who won the LPGA Drive On Championship at Superstition Moutain earlier this season.
Two teams are chasing at four-under, including the pairing of Yu Liu and Ruixin Liu (Team 66), and the team of Linnea Johansson and Linnea Strom (Team Just call us Linnea?). Team Golden Oldies, with players Jane Park and Paula Creamer, finished with a 75, carding a birdie on the par-5, third hole. The #LPGAMoms were visited on the course by Park’s daughter, Grace, and the team spotted several pink hats worn by spectators around the course, all sold in support of the Epilepsy Foundation and Golf4Her.
On Thursday, the teams return for another day of play, but in a fourball format (best ball) and a cut at the end of the day being made at 35 teams and ties.