|A sensational start for Liebelei Lawrence|
Liebelei Lawrence, who could become the Ladies European Tour’s first representative from Greece, fired an opening round of four-under par 69 on the par-73 South Course at La Manga Club in Spain to take a one stroke lead at Final Qualifying School for the 2011 season.
Lawrence, who turned professional on the eve of the tournament, fired four birdies in a row from the 11th and dropped her only shot of the day on the par-five 18th for a three-under back nine total.
In cold and windy conditions, she closed with a birdie on the par-five ninth hole for a one-under total on the front-nine.
The 24-year-old, who was born in Athens but lives in Luxembourg, finished a stroke ahead of Sweden’s Caroline Hedwall and Spain’s Belen Mozo. French amateur Joanna Klatten and Sweden’s Caroline Westrup were the only other players to beat par and finished on one-under.
There were no scores below par on the par-71 North Course, where nine players finished level for the day. They were Louise Larsson, Isabella Ramsay, Nontaya Srisawang, Kiran Matharu, Ashley Smith, Adriana Zwanck, Mikaela Parmlid, Kim Williams and Monia Bernardo.
Lawrence moved from Greece to Luxembourg aged three and started to play golf at age10. She moved to Florida to attend the David Leadbetter Academy when she was 16 and received a scholarship to play golf for Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.
She intended to turn pro once she graduated but instead took a job in sales, event planning and marketing for a start-up company selling athletic apparel. After 10 months she decided to pursue her dream of playing professional golf and made the leap to the paid ranks with a handicap of +1.6 on Tuesday evening.
“I was a lot more excited than I expected to be. I think I kept my amateur status for comfort but as soon as I did it I felt really happy and it was a weight off my shoulders,” said Lawrence, who speaks five languages fluently.
“I came out really fast. I chipped in on 11 for birdie, which to me was wonderful. From there I strung together four birdies and kept it going. I three-putted 18 but my putting was really good except for on that one hole. I had all pars coming in and then another birdie on the ninth, the last hole.
“It was really cold the first nine holes and then it warmed up but the wind was really rough. I don’t think I realised until I came in. It was steady wind though, no unexpected gusts.”
Hedwall, 21, from Taby, felt comfortable on the course where she shot an eight-under par round at the pre-qualifying stage a fortnight ago.
She said: “I started off with a couple of bogeys and made a birdie on number four, six, ten, 14 and 18. So after that start I was bogey-free, so it was okay.
“I feel confident. We had the European Team Championship here this summer so I really know the course really well. I feel very comfortable out there.”
Mozo had a flawless round with three birdies on the par fives. The 22-year-old from Cadiz explained: “It was really easy; one of those days that you don’t make any bogeys, you make birdies on the par fives and you hit for birdie on almost every hole.
“The greens are very soft and stepped so it’s very difficult to make putts. The ball doesn’t roll that well but it’s getting very cold so if you cut it shorter it will be bad. It’s good; it was one of those days when the putts didn’t get in and I just made birdies on par fives.”
Westrup, 24, who played on the Duramed Futures Tour this season with a best finish of eighth, was pleased with her steady round of one-under 72 and said: “I am satisfied. It was really tough today on the first couple of holes. It was really windy going off and just trying to be focused on one shot at a time and take the right decisions.”
Final Qualifying will be a five-round examination at La Manga Club in Los Belones, Cartagena, from Wednesday 15th to Sunday 19th December, with a cut to the top 50 players and ties after four rounds.
The first four rounds will be played over both the North and South Courses and the final round will be played on the South.
After five rounds (90 holes), the top 30 women will earn playing rights for 2011 in Category 8a while players finishing in positions 31-50 and ties will earn category 9b. Players who fail to make the 72 hole cut will be eligible for Membership in Category 11a.