A bogey-free first round at Willow Run Golf Course for Sophia Popov (Heidelberg, Germany) puts her on the top of the fifth annual Sioux Falls GreatLIFE Challenge leaderboard, sharing the 18-hole advantage at 5-under par.
The 144-player field battled windy conditions throughout day one, with gusts reaching 25 mph. Popov was able to manage the elements, using three birdies and an eagle to reach a season low mark on the Symetra Tour.
“I played really solid and thought I was playing well considering the conditions,” said Popov, who has not missed a cut in eight starts this year. “Halfway through the round, I looked at the leaderboard and saw some girls making birdies then the wind caught up with everyone. Made a few two-putts coming in, just good shots into the green and take my par. I felt I could have made a couple more, but it was tough. The putt on No. 17, I barely touched it and any harder it’s going off the green.”
LEE STAYS IN PRESENT WITH LARGE PURSE AT HAND
Currently ranked No. 8 in the Volvik Race for the Card, Esther Lee (Los Alamitos, California) knows there is a lot at stake in the Mount Rushmore State with a total purse of $225,000 and $33,750 winner’s share.
“It’s only natural to think about what could be, but I’m trying to focus on this event and not the overall picture,” said Lee, who has total season earnings of $63,836. “Of course, I’m always aware of my place on the money list. It’s exciting the purses are bigger toward the end of the season and I definitely hit the ball farther today. On No. 18, I was basically on the ridge by the water which is nearly 340 yards. It was downwind and downhill, but did not expect that. There’s so much on the line it’s exciting.”
Seven birdies and two bogeys paved the way for a 5-under par start in Sioux Falls, S.D., joining Lee with Popov as an 18-hole co-leader. The duo holds a one-shot margin heading into day two.
“The main things I was thinking about was keeping the ball in play and hitting greens because it was so windy,” Lee said. “These greens are rolling true, so with the right line they’ll fall. You do have to pay attention, though, since they are quick and have a lot of slope.”
ADAMS SIMPLIFIES GAMEPLAN AND RESULTS SHOW
After carding a bogey on her first hole of round one, Lori Beth Adams (Burlington, North Carolina) really turned around the direction she was headed by going 4-under par the rest of the front nine and 3-under overall going out.
How she planned to attack Willow Run Golf Course was simple in nature, and it ended up working for the better. That gameplan combined with a couple sparks on the first half of her 18 and Adams trails the lead by one after a 4-under par 66.
“This golf course is tough and I was really just playing for par,” Adams said. “Had an eagle putt go in on No. 7 then chipped in for birdie on No. 9, so that got my round going. On the back side, played for par and let any birdies fall with the wind and fast greens. Me and my caddy talked to stay loose and kept it one hole at a time. There’s some high scores out there and it can be difficult with the wind.”
Laetitia Beck (-3, T4) on building from her solid start:
“For me, I need to hit my tee shots more consistent. The back nine wasn’t as good, so it made a little harder on myself. I also didn’t hit many fairways today, which you have to hit fairways and greens, be patient. The greens are really tough, but as long as you play smart and give yourself a good luck. If you find a bad position, it makes it really hard out here. I guess course management is the key this week.”
Marta Sanz Barrio (-3, T4) on staying patient during a four-day event:
“You need all the patience you can have. It’s a long tournament going four days and there’s hard winds out here. You’re going to have bad shots, bad bounces, but need to have as much patience as I can and keep playing like this. It was an up and down round with a lot of birdies, yet three-putted three times. It doesn’t feel as good as it looks on the leaderboard, could have shot lower.”
Janie Jackson (-3, T4) on the challenge that Willow Run Golf Course presents:
“It’s a lot different than most of the courses we play, just because it is not right in front of you. You have to be strategic off the tee and then with however windy it was today, I don’t know the wind just makes it that much harder. The most important thing for me is getting it in a spot off the tee to where I have a look at the green on my approach shot. I hit the ball really well and didn’t put myself in any trouble off the tee today. Overall, it was a good solid day and happy for a good first round in tough conditions.”
• Popov, 26, is a native of Heidelberg, Germany
• Won the 2010 International European Ladies Amateur Championship
• Named the 2011 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year for the University of Southern California and also selected as the National Golf Coaches Association (NGCA) Freshman of the Year
• Member of the 2013 NCAA Division I Women’s Golf National Championship title team and finished her Trojans career as only the second four-time All-American in program history
• Five career collegiate victories tie Popov for the most in USC history, while 22 rounds in the 60s is tops by any Trojans player and career stroke average of 72.71 is second
• Finished T11 at the Final Stage of the 2014 LPGA Qualifying Tournament to earn Priority List Category 12 membership for the 2015 LPGA Tour season
• 39 events on the Symetra Tour during the 2016 and 2017 seasons featured 35 cuts made with 11 top-10s and a career-best solo second result at the 2016 Chico’s Patty Berg Memorial
• Finished T32 at the Final Stage of the 2017 LPGA Qualifying Tournament to earn Priority List Category 17 membership for the 2018 LPGA Tour season
• Battled injury throughout 2018, but made the cut in all three Symetra Tour starts and played the weekend in half of her 12 LPGA Tour starts with a career-best T13 finish at the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give
• Finished T36 at the inaugural LPGA Q-Series to earn Priority List Category 14 status for the 2019 LPGA Tour season
ABOUT SYMETRA TOUR
The Symetra Tour is the official qualifying tour of the LPGA Tour and enters its 39th competitive season in 2019. With the support of its entitlement partner Symetra, the Tour’s mission is to prepare the world’s best young women professional golfers for a successful career on the LPGA Tour. Since Symetra’s inaugural sponsorship year in 2012, the Symetra Tour has grown from 16 tournaments and $1.7 million in prize money to $4.0 million in prize money awarded over the course of 23 events. With more than 600 alumnae moving on to the LPGA, former Symetra Tour players have won a total of 437 LPGA titles. Follow the Symetra Tour on the web at www.SymetraTour.com, Facebook.com/Road2LPGA, Twitter.com/Road2LPGA, and YouTube.com/Road2LPGA.
Symetra Life Insurance Company is a subsidiary of Symetra Financial Corporation, a diversified financial services company based in Bellevue, Washington. In business since 1957, Symetra provides employee benefits, annuities and life insurance through a national network of benefit consultants, financial institutions and independent agents and advisors. Symetra began its partnership with the Road to the LPGA in 2010 as the title sponsor of the Symetra Classic. It secured naming rights for the Symetra Tour in November 2011. In addition to its title sponsorship of the Tour, which runs through 2021, Symetra sponsors two events on the tournament schedule—the Symetra Classic and the season-ending Symetra Tour Championship. For more information about Symetra, visit www.symetra.com.