(Pelican Waters, Queensland – 27 January 2006) – The AUS$200,000 Titanium Enterprises ALPG Player Championship began in perfect conditions today at Club Pelican near Caloundra on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
The Greg Norman designed course, which has become an even more suitable tournament venue with the recent opening of the adjacent Ramada Pelican Waters, proved a strong test with only four of the field managing to break par in the 10 -15 kilometre per hour breezes which prevailed for most for much of day one.
The field of 114 included some of the Ladies European Tour’s (LET) finest players along with players from Australasia, the USA, Taiwan and Japan, but it would be a local golfer who would steal the limelight on day one. Nicole Lowien, who represents Club Pelican, opened with a first round of two under 70 to show the way at the end of day one.
“I’m really happy with the way I hit the ball and managed to hole a few nice putts,” said the 36 year old who now makes her home in Caloundra. Lowien, who attempted unsuccessfully to gain her US LPGA Tour card late last year, has status on the secondary ‘Futures Tour’ in the US in 2006 but is unsure as to whether she will take advantage of that opportunity. “I’ll see how things go but I’m quite happy playing the pro-ams and the occasional event here.” That of course could all change if she was to go on and do well here and again AT next week’s ANZ Ladies Masters. Lowien played the Pro Am series of events prior to Christmas where she recorded two top five placings. Originally from New South Wales, Lowien was one of the ‘darlings’ of Australian Ladies golf in the early 1990’s when she won events in Australia and achieved A significant profile in Japan.
One shot behind Lowien at one under 71 are Austria’s Natascha Fink, American Susie Parry and Queenslander Rebecca Stevenson. New York born but an Austrian citizen, Fink has yet to win in more than 150 events over twelve years on the Ladies European Tour. This represents a promising start to the new year after a disappointing 2005. Parry has been a member of the LET for only three seasons but played the USLPGA Tour prior to that as Susie Redman. Stevenson will play the European Ladies Tour for the fourth season in 2006. The 1999 Australian Amateur Champion has a career best finish on the European Tour of second, when runner up to Laura Davies at the 2003 ANZ Ladies Masters and she has again showed her liking for playing at home.
The strength of the tournament might yet lie in those who are at or around par. Sophie Sandolo, who shot even par, comes off her best finish on the LET in 2005 and with several strong finishes last year she could well be a threat by Sunday. Gwladys Nocera comes off her best season in 2005 with a 4th place on the Money List. So good was her season that she qualified for The Solheim Cup where she defeated American Cristie Kerr in her singles match. At even par the French woman par is well placed to do well over the next two days.
Another at even par is Brisbane based Heidi McCulkin who has battled to secure a place to play in her first season as a professional but now has at least limited status on both the European and Futures Tours. McCulkin played three ‘pay to play’ events in China last year just to get experience and works at both Brookwater Golf Club near Brisbane and in a nearby surfshop to help make ends meet. The previous Queensland Amateur Champion is one of those great stories of determination that highlights the other side of professional golf.
Also lurking close to contention is the Swedish golfer Cecelia Ekelundh who last year finished 5th on the LET Money List and has won two events on that tour. She has improved each year since joining the LET in 2001 and her 73 has her well within striking distance.
Albury’s Lindsey Wright is yet another close enough to challenge in the better conditions she will likely face tomorrow morning. The USLPGA rookie in 2005 had a solid first season in the ‘holy grail’ of women’s golf after a brilliant amateur career. She struggled a little early today after her break over Christmas but she was satisfied in the end with her one over 73. Wright today played with Australian World Cup rep Shani Waugh who also had one over 73.
Defending champion Katherine Hull a local golfer who is in her second year on the US LPGA Tour, had 74 in the afternoon and is well enough placed to make progress tomorrow morning. A Sunshine Coast resident when home, tonight Hull attends the Sunshine Coast Sports Star of the Year Awards where she is a finalist.
Pre tournament favourite and a golfer who could yet feature on Sunday is Laura Davies whose opening round of 74 has her only four behind Lowien.
Conditions for the weekend are expected to be much the same as they were on day one and a tight contest is in prospect.