Jillian Hollis finished her first round of the Garden City Charity Classic at Buffalo Dunes Golf Course just in time. What had been steady westerly winds between 12-16 mph and gusts around 25 shifted to WNW at 35-40 mph with gusts approaching 60. The unplayable wind conditions led to the suspension of the first round with 13 groups still on the course in Garden City, Kan.
A 2020 LPGA Tour rookie, Hollis was bogey-free through 17 holes before a blemish on her final hole, No. 9. The University of Georgia product still managed a 6-under 66, highlighted by five birdies and an eagle at the par-5 1st.
“I put myself in good positions today,” said Hollis, who hit 15 greens in regulation. “Tried to stay patient because the wind started blowing on No. 5. Made a really good par there, but it was a lot different down the stretch than the start of the round.”
It’s only the third Epson Tour event of the season for Hollis. She has Monday qualified twice this year on the LPGA Tour at the JTBC Classic and DIO Implant LA Open. Those experiences provided a confidence boost that was evident in Hollis’ performance this afternoon.
“I love the competitive nature of Monday qualifiers, hitting at pins,” Hollis said. “It was good and meant a lot for my game. I think it’s trending in the right direction.”
Gabriella Then fired a bogey-free 67 to sit one shot back of Hollis in solo second. The 2021 medalist at the Final Qualifier for Ladies European Tour Qualifying School spent March competing in Saudi Arabia and South Africa on the LET. Since returning to the United States, she played the Monday qualifier for the LPGA Tour’s LOTTE Championship and began her Epson Tour schedule last week in Hurricane, Utah at the Copper Rock Championship.
That was all before Tuesday’s U.S. Women’s Open qualifier at Soule Park Golf Club in Ojai, Calif., and making the trek the Finney County for the Garden City Charity Classic.
“When you get into the season, you enter a certain mode. Now that I’m on a roll, I know what to work on and can move on to the next event with a plan,” said Then, who recorded five birdies in the first round. “The birdie on the first hole today really helped, maybe a 10-foot putt. Read it right and getting the speed perfect built the momentum going forward in the round.”
Lindy Duncan was 4-under through 15 holes before play was suspended on Friday, while seven players share fourth place at -3 including 17-year-old Alexa Pano, making her second start as a professional. A group of nine individuals are tied for 11th at 2-under. Topeka native and Wichita State University alum Rachel Stous signed for a 7-over 79.
Yue Ren (-3, T4) on her mindset heading into the first round:
“I focused on every shot and where I needed to land. Focus and trust myself, just do it. My putting was a little bit unlucky, just missed a little bit but everything was really good. I will not think about the score or nothing. I am going to do what I think I should do.”
Alexa Pano (-3, T4) on Buffalo Dunes Golf Course:
“The wind makes the course interesting but there are still a lot of holes you can attack with wedges, if you hit a good drive. There’s a bit of strategy, which is nice and I love playing to that. I had three birdies in my first six holes, was pretty happy with those.”
Past champion Alejandra Llaneza (-2, T11) on her comfort level at Buffalo Dunes and first round:
“I feel very comfortable stepping onto Buffalo Dunes. I love the golf course. For some reason, it reminds me of some courses I grew up playing in Mexico. I hit the ball well today, and the key was remembering my landing spots, being aware of bounces with the wind. I felt comfortable out there and happy to be back here playing again. Hope to continue the solid play the next two days.”