Ana Menendez of Mexico shot the lowest round of her career to join Chonlada Chayanun at the head of affairs on four-under-par 68 after the first round of the inaugural Ladies European Thailand Championship.
The 25-year-old second year professional from Mexico City made five birdies in her first 14 holes at Phoenix Gold Golf and Country Club in Pattaya on Thursday afternoon to grab a one stroke lead, but then dropped a shot at the par-3 16th to sit alongside the early starter.
“I’m very pleased with the way I played today. I stayed patient out there and I’m proud of how I focused and held it together,” said Menendez, who enjoyed playing in the heat, with temperatures around 32C. “I think this is a course where you need to strategize a lot, and I was doing that well. Some of the bounces can surprise you, so I was pleased with how I managed the course and I got up and down when I needed to and made two chip-ins today, so that helped.”
Menendez made two cuts from 10 starts last year as a rookie on tour but has already improved with a career best tie for 21st place at the Lalla Meryem Cup in 2017.
She continued: “This year so far has been a lot steadier for me. I’m the only Mexican player on tour and last year, I didn’t know a lot of the girls. We were playing so far away and it was a little overwhelming and I started losing my confidence. I’m very happy with my work in the off season and I’ve played more steadily. I’ve had some great experiences, like playing with Lydia Ko in the Lorena Ochoa Match Play, so I’m very happy with the way the year is turning out so far.”
Chayanun, meanwhile, birdied the fifth, sixth, 10th, 13th and 16th holes, with a solitary bogey on the par-3 11th. The 24-year-old from Nakhonrachasrima, nicknamed ‘Koi’, who was a 2015 ISU Athlete of the Year at Iowa State University in the United States, said: “My driver was really good. I hit 13 fairways today and missed only one, which is on hole 18. I hit 14 greens and made all the up and downs. My putting was good and I had 30 putts, but it could have been better.”
Thai amateur Atthaya Thitikul, who is the youngest player in the field, sits two strokes back in solo third after an opening 70. The 14-year-old has the advantage of having played in the Thailand Ladies’ Amateur Championship on the same golf course twice before. Two years ago, she tied for fourth in the event with a three-round total of level par aged 12.
She said: “I’m so happy with my score today and it was so good. I used the experience of playing in the Honda LPGA Thailand to prepare for this. I hope to make the cut here and gain more experience.”
Norwegian Madelene Stavnar, who is the Ladies European Tour’s youngest member at 16, is a stroke further behind in a tie for fourth place with Jessica Karlsson of Sweden and Germany’s Karolin Lampert.
Stavnar said: “I am satisfied with the first round. Things can always be better but it was a rough start and then it got better. My driving, wedges and putting were working well. This is my first time in Thailand, so it’s a new country and I’m not used to the heat. It’s very different from home.”
There are five further players tied for seventh place on even par. They are last year’s LET Access Series order of merit winner Sarah Schober from Austria, Luna Sobron from Spain, Olivia Cowan from Germany and Thai pair Pajaree Anannarukarn and Pimpadsorn Sangkagaro.
The second round gets under way on Friday at 7am local time.