Visit Mesa Gateway Classic at Longbow Golf Club
First-Round News & Notes
February 21, 2014
It’s a crowded leaderboard at the Epson Tour season-opening event as six-players sit tied for the first-round lead at the Visit Mesa Gateway Classic at Longbow Golf Club. Tucson, Ariz. native and former Big Break contestant Sara Brown headlines the group of six players who are tied for the lead after shooting 5-under-par 67s. Joining Brown at 5-under-par are Jennie Lee, who had full-time status on the LPGA Tour last year; current Big Break Florida contestant Sadena Parks; former Big Break contestant Mallory Blackwelder, LPGA Tour member Alena Sharp and fellow Canadian Sara-Maude Juneau.
Chasing right behind the group of leaders are Melissa Eaton (South Africa), Nicole Sakamoto (Hawaii) and Caroline Westrup (Sweden) who all sit at 4-under-par after 18 holes.
A total of 18 players are within three shots of the lead at the finish of first-round play.
Brown, who took eight months off due to kidney stones, showed no rust in her first round back playing professional golf. She collected five birdies in her bogey-free round. Brown finished emphatically by sinking a short birdie putt on her final hole.
“That final putt was awesome,” said Brown. “I didn’t really have any expectations coming out here so to play well with my dad on the bag was just exciting; especially being bogey free.”
Even after the long hiatus from golf, Brown’s swing felt more comfortable than it had pre-injury and the 28-year-old felt that she played a lot smarter due to her new role as a coach.
“I was texting with one of my golf instructors, Jason Sutton, yesterday and I told him that this is the best my swing has ever felt going into a tournament.” said Brown. “I was really looking forward to today and I knew if I just could get my putter going I’d be ok and I’m really giving all this credit to me being the assistant coach for the University of Arizona.”
Brown last won on the Epson Tour in 2012 at the My Marsh Golf Classic in Fishers, Indiana.
After a strong first round, Brown won’t make many adjustments for round two on Saturday.
“Same thing as this morning, I’ll come out and warm up and Derek (her husband and Univ. of Arizona golf coach) will be on the range with me watching my swing and if there is anything messing up we’ll fix it.” said Brown. “It’s just going to be a good day tomorrow and hopefully another under par round.”
Lee, who finished right before Brown on the ninth hole, also recorded a bogey-free round. The Henderson, Nev. native opened her round with six straight pars before making birdie on the par-3 16th. Lee, who started on the back nine, birdied the second hole and closed her round with birdies on three of the final five holes.
“I putted really well, especially on the back nine,” said Lee. “I just rolled them well and the hole caught them so I was happy with that.”
Lee maneuvered around the golf course like a crafty veteran.
“The course is in really good shape and is playing really well,” said Lee. “There are definitely a couple reachable par fives for good birdie chances.”
The only issue Lee had on the course today was with her driver, which she sprayed right a few times.
“I’m just going to work on my driver a little bit, roll a few putts before I head out and then rest in the afternoon.”
Parks, who teed off in the afternoon wave, ended strong just like Brown and Lee before her. After staying steady with eight straight pars on the back nine, Parks reached the par-5 ninth in three shots. She rolled a long eagle putt close and tapped in for par to move into a three-way tie for first.
“For me to keep it in play and hit fairways and greens was great,” said the Seattle, Wash. native. “I was just really comfortable out there playing golf.”
Parks, who made the cut in only six of 13 events played last year, is remaining cautiously optimistic about her start to the weekend.
“I wasn’t hitting the ball as well as I could have, but the fact that I managed to get five-under today makes me very proud of myself,” said Parks. “However, I have two more days so I’m trying to stay focused and in control.”
Blackwelder, who turned professional in 2010, finished her first round with birdies on 15 and 18 to join the first-place group. The former University of Kentucky golfer finished her front nine with an eagle and made six birdies on the day.
Sharp, who finished ninth on the Epson Tour money list in 2013 to regain her LPGA Tour card, was the fifth player to reach 5-under-par after making birdie on the par-4 eighth. The Hamilton, Ontario native played a consistent bogey-free round.
Sharp played very well at the first LPGA event of the year, the Pure-Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic. She shot 10-under-par and finished T18. She did not make the cut at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.
Juneau birdied the final four holes just before night fall to join the leaders.
CHEYENNE WOODS SHOOTS 74: The niece of PGA star Tiger Woods, Cheyenne Woods, shot a two-over par 74 to kick off her first full season on the Epson Tour. Her round started with two pars and then a bogey on the third hole. The 23-year old bogeyed three of the first seven holes before finishing the front nine strong with back-to-back birdies on eight and nine.
Woods started the back nine with a bogey on ten before recovering with a birdie on number 11. Following three straight pars, Woods bogeyed the 15th hole before ending her round with three consecutive pars.
“I felt good out there today, but my course management was just a little off,” said Woods. “I made a few mistakes on the course today, but I’m happy with the three birdies I made.”
The Phoenix native, who has played Longbow Golf Club before, is coming off a whirlwind start to her 2014 golf season which included a victory on the Ladies European Tour at the Volvik RACV Australian Ladies Masters on Feb. 9. She also finished T23 at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, an LPGA event.
“I started the same as I started last year [here] with a 1-under,” said the former Arizona State University golfer. “I made just one mistake on 12, so I’ll play that a bit differently tomorrow.”
Besides Sweeney’s double-bogey on the 12th hole, the rest of her day was sharp. She jumped off to a good start with a birdie on the first hole and then birdied the final hole on the front nine to make the turn at one-under-par. After her double on the 12th, Sweeney bounced back with back-to-back birdies on 14 and 15. She ended her day with three straight pars.
“I had three really solid birdie opportunities coming in, but didn’t make any of them,” said Sweeney. “Tomorrow is a new day.”
Sweeney finished tenth on the Epson Tour money list last year to earn her LPGA Tour card for 2014. She played in the first two LPGA events of the year, the Pure-Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic and the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open. Sweeney wasn’t in the limited field for this week’s event, the Honda LPGA Thailand, and was more than excited to play the Epson Tour’s season-opener.
“I have really good memories here and it is my college hometown so it’s always good to come back,” said Sweeney. “I love going to the local restaurants and In-N-Out and all those other fun places and it was just a stop on the way back from Australia.”
The younger Pressel made par on the tenth, her first hole of the day, but quickly gave the shot back with a bogey on number 11. Her lone birdie of the day came on the fifth hole.
“It was a rough day out there, I think I hit just one fairway on the front nine.” said Pressel. “It was really tough to get any momentum, I think I had like 34 putts and I just wasn’t getting really close to the hole like I would have liked to.”
Pressel had a chance to finish strong, but three-putted for par on her final hole. Even with the struggles, Pressel kept a positive mindset following the round.
“I’ve been hitting the ball well coming in and I know it is just one day and I’m not worried,” said Pressel. “I just need to focus on getting the ball closer (to the pin) because I had a lot of 30-foot putts today.”
Pressel, a rookie on the Epson Tour, credits her big sister with acclimating her to life as a professional golfer.
“I think I’m pretty lucky having Morgan, granted she didn’t go through this tour, but she went through something on a bigger stage.” said Pressel. “I kind of know what to expect and I know it’s not the glamour life that a lot of people think it is.”
Despite the grind of the Epson Tour season and the LPGA season, the Pressel sisters remain close.
“We talk every day, we pretty much live together,” said Madison. “We all have such scattered schedules that most of the time we’re not home together, but it’s nice over Christmas time when I get to spend a lot of time with her.”
BIG BREAK FLORIDA CONTESTANT NARZISI: Big Break Florida contestant Mary Narzisi shot an even-par 72 in round one. She started on the back nine, recording two birdies, a bogey and a double-bogey over her first nine holes.
The Omaha, Neb. native played a bit more even over her final nine holes as she shot a 1-under 35 on her way into the clubhouse.
“I played well, I was two-under after seven holes and just kind of made a couple mistakes,” said Narzisi. “I had to flip it around on the front and shot even for the day which isn’t bad considering I haven’t played since the filming of Big Break Florida.”
Narzisi took time off after the filming to refocus and rest. She also coached varsity basketball for a month and a half. Narzisi said that the pressure of Big Break Florida will help her on the course this year.
“It actually really helped me on my first tee-shot, I wasn’t nervous at all,” said the former University of Minnesota golfer. “It was nice to know what you were doing, there [Big Break] you never knew what you’d be doing, so you felt like you were going to throw up every morning.”