On a blustery Thursday at Hoakalei Country Club in Ewa Beach, Oahu, Hawaii, it was Thailand’s Natthakritta Vongtaveelap and Sweden’s Frida Kinhult who found their strides, firing a pair of 6-under 66s to share the 18-hole lead at the LOTTE Championship presented by Hoakalei. Kinhult was the first in the clubhouse with a 66, notching one bogey and seven birdies. Her card included four birdies in a six-hole stretch on the front nine, which played as her back nine on day one. It’s the first time in her LPGA Tour career that she’s held the 18-hole lead/co-lead in a stroke-play event, and despite bogeying her final hole after a flubbed chip, the 23-year-old was pleased with her performance in the challenging conditions.
“It was very solid. Nothing crazy really happened. Just throughout the day tried to hit some fairways, and then I think I hit most greens, which is helpful in this wind,” said Kinhult, who hit 15 of 18 greens. “Just tried to stay patient out there shot by shot for real in this wind. A lot of math in my head, so probably going to fall asleep pretty good tonight. Super happy with the start and pumped for the rest of the week.”
Vongtaveelap, a 2023 LPGA Tour rookie, vaulted up the leaderboard late in the day on her final nine, the front nine at Hoakalei Country Club. She turned in 34 after making birdies on holes 12 and 18, and grabbed another on the par-4 third hole. Parring the next, Vongtaveelap made the only eagle of the day on the par-5 fifth hole to move to 5-under and one back of Kinhult. She went three-for-three with pars on the next three holes, chipping in on the par-3 ninth hole to post a bogey-free, 6-under 66, the second-lowest round of her LPGA Tour career.
“So my round today, bogey-free. My tee shot was super perfect today. My putt goes today, so my score is great,” said Vongtaveelap, who finished just her fifth career LPGA Tour round after making her debut with a runner-up finish at the Honda LPGA Thailand in February. “I feel great for myself and hope the next three days I will play the same as today.”
A quartet of players sit in a tie for third at 4-under: rookie Bailey Tardy, six-time LPGA Tour winner Nasa Hataoka, defending LOTTE champion Hyo Joo Kim and sponsor invite Yu Jin Sung. Kim made eight birdies and four bogeys on Thursday, saying that making bogey on her first hole of the day really jump-started the rest of her round. “I started out at the 10th hole today and started with a bogey, so I had the mindset of I got to really get my head straight,” Kim said. “The putter worked really well, and that led to a low score. Swings were good. I actually made a lot of mistakes, but I actually had the thought that I should make more birdies to cover for that.”
Four players round out the top 10 in a tie for seventh at 3-under, most notably major champion and 2022 LOTTE Championship runner-up Hinako Shibuno. Hawaiian local Allisen Corpuz and Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings No. 7 Brooke Henderson both carded 1-under 71s and are in a share of 21st.