Wegmans LPGA Championship Thursday: Lexi Thompson and Meena Lee Lead at -6

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Even though I’m writing this from the media center at Monroe Golf Club, I’m sure you know more about what happened during the 1st round of the Wegmans LPGA Championship than I do.  You see, while Lexi Thompson (66), Meena Lee (66), Brittany Lincicome (67), Lisa McCloskey (67), and Shanshan Feng (68) were lighting it up in the morning, I was following Laura Davies, Angela Stanford, and So Yeon Ryu.  And while Cristie Kerr fired a 68 and Jennifer Kirby (-5 through 15) was going on a run in the afternoon, I was following Ai Miyazato, Sandra Gal, and Lizette Salas.  True, I did see a lot of shots from Feng, who was in the group behind us in the morning, but the only time I saw Lexi was when we happened to duck into the same porta-potty zone at the same time!  So I’m going to focus in this post on what I did focus on today:  6 golfers and 1 course (which I’ve now walked 3 times, so I feel like I’m starting to get to know it).

What was neat about following these 6 golfers was the range of styles of play they bring.  Davies is of course a classic bomber, while Ryu, Stanford, and Gal are straight shooters and Miyazato and Salas are precision players.  So I got to see how they each attempted to attack a course that was equally new to each of them.  Their scores ranged from 69 (Stanford) to 74 (Miyazato), but to tell you the truth, there wasn’t a whole lot of difference between the players in terms of quality of play.  I saw 84 drives today and only 1 missed the fairway by more than a yard–Davies’s pull into the trees off the 1st tee (where she ended up on wood chips that constituted a temporary cart path, took relief from it, punched out into the front-left trap, and made a great sandie to save par!).  Salas hit the fewest greens (11) and Gal the most (15), but until I looked it up, they didn’t seem so different from everyone else I followed, who hit 13 or 14.  I only saw a few bad misses of greens, as most ended up on the fringe or just off it.  One that stands out was Ryu’s double-cross on the par-3 6th that ended up in the front-left trap, from which she made double when she hit it a little thin out of the sand and ended up in jail over the back-right corner of the green.  Salas put herself in a few very difficult traps, as well, but she had trouble carrying the high banks and had to make excellent scrambles from the rough to save bogeys on those holes.  Even the apparent yardage differences from their scorecards are somewhat misleading, as they only average results on a few holes.  Davies was consistently longer than everyone else, while Ryu and Stanford were neck-and-neck on most holes.  Miyazato was surprisingly long, expecially on the front (their back), often outdriving both Gal and Salas.  In fact, Miyazato’s drive on 9 wasn’t that far short of Davies’s!

So what made the difference between their rounds?  If you guessed pitches, chips, and putts, pat yourself on the back.  Salas bogeyed her 1st 2 holes and needed to work to avoid a double on the par-4 11th, but she was able to make 3 birdies on each side to offset her 5 bogeys.  Miyazato had maybe the best ball-striking round I’ve ever seen her play, but she missed 5 putts between 4 and 12 feet on the back (her front) and I was so disheartened I stopped counting on the front.  And yet, after she made what turned out to be her only birdie of the day on the par-4 7th (after sticking her approach to 3 feet) and followed it up with another great approach on the short par-3 8th, she had 12 feet from pin-high right to fight back to E on the day.  The putt had perfect speed but crept around the perimeter of the hole instead of falling in.  Then she hits a great wedge on the par-5 9th that lands near the hole but fails to hold and as the rain starts falling just misses a chip-in and then misses the comebacker.  Contrast that with Stanford, who came about an inch short of an eagle on the par-4 18th and ended up being the only person I saw to break 70 today, and that just about sums it all up.

There’s a lot more to say–I literally charted every shot on my course map–but I don’t have time to go into more details.  So in the 10 minutes I have until I have to catch a shuttle and go to my favorite Korean restaurant in Rochester, let me just sum up the rounds in bullet points:

  • Ryu:  2 bad shots in a row on the par-3 6th were the only thing that kept her over par.  She did have trouble with super-long putts on the front a couple of times, but pretty much anyone would have.  Her left wrist was taped, but it didn’t seem to affect her ball-striking.  What held her back was an inability to make the putts she needed to get some momentum going.
  • Stanford:  She was solid all day and deserved to go a couple lower than she actually ended up.  That approach on 18 makes up for a lot, though!
  • Davies:  A typical adventurous round for Dame Laura, although after 1 she was almost always in the fairway all day.  She hit a driver off the deck on 9 and almost reached it in 2, but she also displayed fantastic touch out of the sand.  If a few par saves and birdie putts had fallen, she could have gone really low today.  71 was about the worst she could have scored.
  • Miyazato:  Fantastic ball-striking both off the tee and especially with her fairway woods and hybrids, solid pitches when she missed the green, but even when she stuck it or made good recovery shots, her putter just didn’t come through for her today.  At one point late on the back she missed 4 really make-able birdie or par putts in a row.  After her round, she talked about just accepting that it’s part of a process that she has to keep working at.  She attributed her improved ball-striking the last 2 months to a lot of hard work, so she knows at some point the putter will start working for her again.
  • Salas:  What a battler!  For every bad approach shot she’d hit, she’d hit a great one, too.  She had a good-sized group of family and fans following her and they had a lot to celebrate!
  • Gal:  A very elegant, artistic golfer, with great touch around the greens and on them.  She was right around the hole all day, but could get only 2 birdies to fall.  Her 71 was about the worst she could have scored, too, given the quality of her play.
All right, I hope I learned a lot about tempo, focus, and persistence that I can take to my Mid-Amateur qualifier tomorrow at Tuscarora.  Walking 36 wasn’t too much of a struggle, but I’ll be glad to get some food and some rest before I play at 9:39 am tomorrow!

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