Rookie professional Rachel Jennings posted a five under par 67 to take the outright lead after round one of the Allianz Ladies Slovak Open.
The 22-year-old Stoke-on-Trent player, who earned her Ladies European Tour LET) card at the first attempt in December, hit 18 greens in regulation and had 31 putts during her bogey-free round at Gray Bear Golf Club in Tále, Slovakia.
She took a one stroke lead over four other players including fellow Staffordshire player Lisa Hall, Holland’s Christel Boeljon, Australian Kristie Smith and Tania Elosegui from Spain.
Jennings, who started at the 10th, produced three birdies on the back nine at the 10th, 13th and 15th holes before adding two further birdies on the front nine, at the fifth and the sixth.
It was her career-best score in 14 rounds and five tournaments played on Tour this season. She made her debut at the Lalla Meryem Cup in Morocco, where she missed the cut, but has since posted a tie for 11th in Turkey, eighth in Portugal and a tie for 35th last week in Germany.
“I’m not getting carried away but it feels good,” she said. “Everything went solid out there and I holed a few putts. I hit 18 greens in regulation and I hit 12 fairways.”
Jennings is enjoying her first season on Tour and said: “I love it. It’s the best job in the world.” She found her feet quickly with the help of her friend and neighbour Martin Ridley, a former footballer and PGA professional who caddies for the German player Caroline Masson.
“We’re good friends and it’s relaxing to have someone out here who’s a good friend and who’s not actually a competitor,” Jennings said. “I’m just relaxed and loving it. I feel no pressure. I just take every week as a different week and see how I get on.”
It’s an exciting year for her as she is due to marry the Shirley Golf Club teaching professional, Chris Thornton, on 2nd September. This week she is working with Swedish caddie Sven Gislander, who caddied for Italian Diana Luna when she won without a single bogey last week in Germany.
“He kept on saying to me after every hole, like ’95 now’ and then he’s just told me he’s caddied for 100 holes without a bogey. There was a bit of pressure coming up the last. He’s a nice guy who makes me laugh. He’s easy to get on with and gives me the right yardages, so just a perfect caddie!” Jennings said.
She will tee off at 7.40am in the 72-hole event on Friday, before a cut to the leading 60 players and ties after the second round.
Elsewhere, English amateur Lauren Taylor, from Rugby in Warwickshire, chipped in for eagle on the par-five fourth hole and then aced the par-three fifth using a 4-iron. The 16-year-old from Woburn Golf Club qualified for the Allianz Ladies Slovak Open two weeks ago, after travelling out to Gray Bear Golf Club for a practice round and for the two-day qualifier. She finished the day at two over par 74, alongside 14 other players, including Britons Laura Davies, Melissa Reid, Lydia Hall, Rebecca Hudson, Lynn Kenny, Becky Morgan, Elizabeth Bennett, Rachel Bell and Charlie Douglass.