DUPONT, Wash. – Cindy Ha, 17, of Demarest, N.J., shot a 5-under 67 and holds the lead following Monday’s first round of stroke play at the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship, being conducted at The Home Course.
Ha, a member of New Jersey’s winning team at the 2013 USGA Women’s State Team Championship, converted seven birdies against only two bogeys at the 6,169-yard, par-72 layout.
Reigning Girls’ Junior champion Gabriella Then, 18, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., made six birdies in her first nine holes, including five straight to make the turn with a 6-under 30. However, she faded down the stretch with two bogeys and sits one stroke behind Ha at 4-under 68.
Playing in her third Women’s Amateur Public Links, Ha played what she called “unreal” golf. The freshman-to-be at Vanderbilt University earned her lowest score in a USGA championship.
“Everything was really solid,” said Ha, who reached the quarterfinals of the 2013 WAPL. “Tee shots are really important here and I was hitting the fairways with pretty long drives, so I had wedges in. From there, (I was) just hitting them close and making the putts.”
Ha played in the morning’s third group, and saw weather conditions that ranged from overcast and cool to sunny and warm. Her adaptability to the changing conditions was vital to her success.
“I was shivering while I was warming up,” said Ha. “It was very dry weather and I really love it. You’re not out there sweating.”
Then’s birdie streak had an improbable start. The rising sophomore at the University of Southern California watched her tee shot at the par-3 14th (her fifth hole) land 15 feet short and roll off the back of the green.
“I thought, ‘Oh, I hit a good tee shot, but oh well, I have to chip,'” said Then. Her deft 60-foot chip found the bottom of the hole, and sent her on what she called her “birdie train.”
“I thought it gave me a little confidence and got me going for the next couple of holes,” said Then, who is playing in her first competitive round since failing to advance in a 36-hole U.S. Women’s Open sectional qualifier on May 14.
Then’s freshman season at USC, in which she played in nine tournaments and posted a 74.08 stroke average, illustrates the depth of the Trojans’ roster. Then did not make the five-player squad that competed for the national title. Going through swing and club changes at that time, Then has used her extended break to regain control of her game.
“I’ve had to adjust fairly quickly,” said Then, who followed her six birdies with two bogeys over her final nine holes. “I’ve had this time in the summer to get back together.”
Annie Park, a member of the victorious 2014 USA Curtis Cup Team and the co-medalist at the 2013 Women’s Amateur Public Links, carded a 3-under 69. She came to The Home Course off a month of travel that included the Curtis Cup Match in St. Louis and the World University Golf Championship in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, as well as stops in Florida and California. However, all the miles and time zones did not adversely affect the 19-year-old from Levittown, N.Y.
“I had trouble hitting it on the fairways with my tee shots, but I’ve got all day to work on that,” said Park, who reached the quarterfinals of the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur. “I had some birdie putts that I made and some that I missed, but the greens are in unbelievable condition.”
Joining Park at 69 is Aram Choi, 22, of Canada, who is a rising senior at Portland State University.
Lucy Li, the 11-year-old who captivated fans at the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open as the championship’s youngest-ever qualifier, carded two birdies and four bogeys en route to a 2-over 74. Li, of Redwood Shores, Calif., again displayed the positive attitude that has typified her USGA experiences.
“I was happy,” said Li of her first round. “I’m glad I came back on the back nine. On this golf course, you can go low.”
Seven players sit at 2-under 70, including Eun Jeong Seong, who at one point was tied for the lead at 5 under, but closed with three consecutive bogeys.
Reigning Women’s Amateur Public Links champion Lauren Diaz-Yi began her title defense with an even-par 72. Kyung Kim, the 2012 winner, and 2013 runner-up Doris Chen both carded 2-over 74s.
Terese Romeo and Alice Chen both carded holes-in-one during Monday’s first round. Romeo, 17, of Tampa, Fla., used a 4-hybrid from 170 yards on the sixth hole. Chen, 18, of Princeton, N.J., aced the 130-yard 14th hole with a 7-iron.
The 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship consists of 36 holes of stroke play followed by six rounds of match play. The championship is scheduled to conclude with a 36-hole final at 8 a.m. PDT on Saturday.
The U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.