Newcomer Céline Boutier of France and Wichanee Meechai of Thailand posted five-under-par 67s on Friday to share the lead after the first round of the Sanya Ladies Open at Yalong Bay Golf Club on Hainan Island, China.
The pair leads by one over nine others on a day ten different nationalities filled the top 11 positions, highlighting the international field depth in the prestigious event, which is sanctioned by the Ladies European Tour, the Asian Ladies Golf Tour and the China Ladies Professional Golf Association.
Boutier, an LET rookie who has earned her U.S. LPGA card for 2018 after two victories on the satellite Symetra Tour, was first in the clubhouse after a bogey-free round. Making her debut in China, she credited the Bermuda grass on the tropical island course for her form.
“I think this course is similar to U.S. courses because of the Bermuda grass. Out on the course, you need to know how to chip out of this rough, which can be tricky. When you putt you have to pay attention to the grain for the speed and the line, so I think it is similar to U.S. courses.”
Meechai had just one bogey in her round after missing the green on the par-three fifth, but is well placed to improve on her joint eighth finish at this event last year.
The 25-year-old, who lost her LPGA card this year after her first season on tour, is in a confident mood.
“I felt good about my game, so I hit it close and made some putts. I expect to win the tournament because I want to give myself confidence and then go to the final stage of LPGA Q-School.
The chasing pack includes South African Lee-Anne Pace, a winner here in 2010 and 2013, who had three bogeys in her 68.
“I got unlucky on the eighth, my 17th hole, because I hit a stunning drive down the middle and ended up in a divot. Then I came up short and didn’t get up and down. I also hit it short on the par-three (fifth).
“I’m super relaxed, which is probably why I’m playing well. I’m having a great time and yesterday I went to the beach. I’m just trusting myself and trusting the game. I’ve worked hard the whole season so happy to just play.”
Sharing third with her is Australian Kristen Farmer, Korea’s Solar Lee, China’s Pan Yang-hon, Marta Sanz Barrio of Spain, Iceland’s Valdis Thora Jonsdottir, Norwegian Marianne Skarpnord, American Amelia Lewis and Thai Prima Thammaraks.
Aussie Farmer provided the day’s fairytale, having taken leave from her regular job as a receptionist to again try and kick-start her professional career.
“This is my fifth year as a pro … I’ve worked full time on-and-off for the last five years — reception, admin work, concierge, worked in a golf shop at Royal Canberra and Green Acres in Melbourne. I’ve done packing shelves at night and I’ve been a waitress.
“It’s a dream that you want to do well.”
The picturesque Yalong Bay Golf Club course is dotted with 98 deadly bunkers and sliced through by a meandering river that also adds to the treachery. Shaped like a dragon’s claw, the course is hemmed in by lush green hills and the beautiful Yalong Bay, all combining to form a stunning setting.