Xiamen, China: Chinese teenager Yuting Shi shot an opening round of seven-under-par 65 to lead by two at the Xiamen International Ladies Open on Thursday. The co-sanctioned event between the Ladies European Tour and China LPGA Tour nearly didn’t happen after Typhoon Meranti blasted the picturesque Orient Golf Club a month ago.
About 10,000 trees were either felled or damaged by the super storm and the greenkeepers worked overtime to rehabilitate the par-72, 6,352-yard venue. With the Ronald Fream/TK Pen-designed layout in Xiamen’s Haicang district now back to tournament conditions, the players were unanimous in their praise for the golf course.
Shi first played at Orient Golf Club in the 2009 China Ladies Open as an 11-year-old amateur and is competing in her eighth tournament at the venue. She comes into Xiamen after winning the China National Team Championship individual title last month on the back of her first CLPGA win in Zhuhai in March.
After carding seven birdies in a flawless opening 65, the 18-year-old Beijinger commented: “The course is different this year. Many trees have gone and the ground is wet so the distances feel longer. Today I hit some very good approach shots and had a lot of birdie chances within 15 feet. I made half of them, which was the key.”
The leading European, Elina Nummenpaa from Finland (above), is two strokes back and tied for second with Thailand’s Ploychompoo Wirairungreung on 67.
Playing in China for the first time this week, Nummenpaa, 33, from Turku, commented: “I heard that a lot of trees are down compared to last year, but I really like the layout of the course and I think it suits me. It’s in surprisingly good condition. The fairways were really wet on Sunday and Monday when I got here, but they’ve been getting better and better all the time and today the greens were much better too. It makes a difference if you are on the fairway or in the rough.”
Wirairungreung, 21, from Bangkok, claimed her first CLPGA title in Xiangsu Province in May and demonstrated the quality of her play by ending her first round with four birdies in a row from the 15th. Fellow Thai player Pannarat Thanapolboonyaras recorded four straight birdies of her own from the 13th to sit alongside China’s Jia Yun Li on 68 in joint fourth place. Li said: “I think this course suits my style. It’s quite narrow and short so I have the ability to do well. Some of the trees were destroyed so the course is less difficult.”
A stroke further back on 69 are Ssu-Chia Cheng (right) and Ai-Chen Kuo from Chinese Taipei, China’s Liqing Chen, England’s Sophie Walker, Hyeon Seo Kang of South Korea, Amelia Lewis of the United States and Ajira Nualraksa of Thailand.
The 2014 tournament champion, Cheng, 18, who was a joint runner-up in 2015, commented: “I’ve played really well here and I know the course pretty well. I think the first couple of birdies gave me a lot of confidence as at the fifth, I holed a birdie putt of 40 feet and then I chipped in on the sixth. The course is quite wet, so the drives are not rolling as far but the greens are receptive, which is good.”
Floridian Lewis, 25, considered the course to be in good shape and said: “It’s awesome. The fairways are a little wet, but the greens are better than last year, I think. The typhoon knocked down some trees that were in my path off the tee so it’s more open and that’s better.”
Walker, 32, from Grimsby, agreed: “This course is in quite good condition considering the bad weather that they’ve had. You’ve got to plot your way around, which I like.”
After starting with a bogey on the short second, Walker (above) had four birdies at the third, fourth, sixth and ninth holes, followed by nine steady pars and said afterwards: “The front nine, I was really good. I could have made a lot of birdies from the first through to the 12th: I was really hot, but only made four.”
The defending champion Hye In Yeom opened with a one-under-par 71 and lies six shots off the lead going into the second day. After two rounds, the field of 126 competitors will be cut to the leading 60 players and those tied for 60th place, with live television coverage over the weekend.