RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif., August 27, 2013 - A group of six snags the first-round lead in the first stage of the 2013 LPGA Qualifying Tournament at Mission Hills Country Club on Tuesday. The talented crop of young female golfers began their professional campaign firing 4-under 68 rounds on the Palmer and Dinah Shore Courses.
Among those tied for the lead include Wake Forest graduate Cheyenne Woods, University of Alabama’s Rhea Nair, University of Hawaii’s Corie Hou, Malaysia native Kelly Tan, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Casey Grice and Belgium native Laura Gonzalez-Escallon. Each fired 4-under-par 68 and holds a one-stroke advantage over a group of four.
Nair, who recorded four top-10 finishes including one win in collegiate competition for the Crimson Tide, started her bogey-free day with birdies on holes 2, 5, 6 and 8 and played easy golf after making the turn with nine-straight pars. The Dubai native credits her putter for her blemish-free scorecard.
“It was not my best hitting day, but I putted really well,” said Nair. “I made a lot of clutch putts and my speed was perfect and I could see the line really well. It was a good day on the greens.”
Woods notched five birdies and one bogey, which came on the par-5 18th hole, during her first round on the Dinah Shore Course. The 23-year-old, who captured her first professional victory last August on the Florida-based SunCoast Ladies Series Tour, says co-leading the first round validates her success she’s seen since last year’s Qualifying Tournament.“It feels great finishing well today,” said Woods. “I played Q School last year and didn’t make it through the first stage, so I’m happy with the way I played. I feel more prepared this year and more relaxed. I have my mom on the bag with me so that helps.”
Australia native Hou also carded five birdies and one bogey on the Dinah Shore Course on Tuesday. A 2010 graduate from the University of Hawaii, Hou is a Mini Tour player in Australia and Europe. She says the key to her low-round was her dependence on her long-time friend and caddie.
“I think what really helped me today was my caddie,” said Hou. “We had a really good relationship today. We bonded well over our putts and read the same breaks. We work well together, you know, we saw the same things off the tee and agreed on a lot of things the greens. It kind of gave me some confidence for this week.”
Malaysia native Tan missed only two greens during her first round on the Palmer Course, and carded five birdies and one bogey on the par-3 17th hole to sit at a tie for first heading into Wednesday's second round.
The 19-year-old hardly considered playing for the LPGA Tour, but after spending her senior year of high school at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. she felt she had potential. Shortly after graduation, she started working with Australian golf coach Ian Triggs and saw immediate results with a win at the Malaysian Ladies Amateur Open.
“We’ve been thinking about Q School since I first met [Ian],” said Tan of her golf coach. “I just felt like I wasn’t sure the first two years, so I decided not to come over. But this year we made the choice and I felt ready.”
“I’ve done a lot of preparation for this tournament so I just come here and try to do my job and play my best, stage by stage and we’ll see what happens.”
Grice held a one-shot lead early on in the day after carding five birdies on the front-nine of the Palmer Course, but a lone bogey on the par-4 14th hole put her in a six-way tie for the lead. The 5-under 31 was the best of the day on both courses.
“I had ten putts, so obviously putting was amazing on the front-nine,” said Grice. “That’s kind of what got me going today. I hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens and I gave myself chances. The front-nine really gave me a lot of confidence.”
The hot weather didn’t seem to affect scores on Tuesday. Temperatures hit the mid-90s in the Palm Springs-area with the heat index reaching triple digits during the mid-part of the day. But despite the heat, playing at the home of the Kraft Nabisco Championship has first-round co-leader Gonzalez-Escallon feeling confident in her game.
“Just playing that course is amazing,” said Gonzalez-Escallon of the Dinah Shore Course. “Seeing it on TV and then actually playing it is an incredible feeling, especially when you score so well.”
Sitting just one-stroke off their pace is a group of four which includes Symetra Tour rookie and University of Tennessee graduate Erica Popson, Cal-Berkely standout Emily Childs, Auburn Tiger Carlie Yadloczky and two-year Symetra Tour member Kendall Wright.
Players are competing on both the Palmer and Dinah Shore courses at Mission Hills Country Club, playing each of the courses twice with no cut. The Rancho Mirage qualifier is the first of the LPGA Tour’s three sectional qualifying events in 2013. The top-100 players at the end of the week will advance to the second stage of the LPGA Qualifying Tournament at Plantation Golf and Country Club in Venice, Fla., and will unfold October 8-11, 2013.