After a day of stiff winds and stiff competition, the first round of the 2023 Florida’s Natural Charity Classic concluded with Jillian Hollis leading the field by two strokes after finishing her last six holes with four birdies to card a 68 on the day.
“I’ve been playing solid golf, and it was nice to have a little break. I’ve been rested, and I’m just excited to be out here,” said Hollis. “Having a positive attitude is always huge, and I’m staying focused on every shot. You can’t really plan for the day, you can’t really plan for anything with golf, really. You just have to focus on the shot in front of you and stay really present. That was my goal today.”
She scored five birdies during the round and just one bogey on the par-3 17th, producing a solid day for the fifth-year Epson Tour veteran. Hollis started on No. 10 and, for a while, managed to stay at -1 after an early birdie on 11 until her one blemish. After that, it was lights out for the former Georgia Bulldog. She came into the clubhouse in 32 strokes and holds the lead and momentum heading into the second round.
“I just really grinded it out out there today. It was really windy, but I quite enjoy playing in the wind because I’m pretty creative with my game,” said Hollis. “A lot of putts fell today.”
During the morning wave, the windy weather gave the field trouble. Players saw gusts of wind at 30-plus miles an hour, making it that much harder to score. While it looked like the top of the leaderboard would be tied after round one, Hollis took advantage of the dying wind in the afternoon to push past everyone else.
Behind Hollis in a seven-way tie for second at 2-under are Yaeeun Hong, Roberta Liti, Perrine Delacour, Robyn Choi, Louise Ridderström, Lindy Duncan and Kiira Riihijarvi.
Choi and Ridderström had colorful scorecards cards due to the windy conditions. Ridderström carded five birdies and three bogeys, while Choi had four birdies and an eagle along with a bogey and triple bogey on the par-3 sixth.
“I was kind of angry at myself after that hole if I’m being honest,” Choi said. “I wasn’t very calm the next few holes — I was still pretty angry. Luckily on the last hole, the wind was downwind, so I only had about 170 yards to the pin, so I hit a good seven — it was pretty close and I just made the putt. It just lipped in — I was pretty lucky with that one.”
While that eagle was a great way to cap off the round, Choi still had that triple to keep her motivated.
“If I didn’t triple that hole then where would I be now,” Choi said. “After that hole, to be able to come back from it, I was happy about that.”
Ridderström came out of the round pleased with her performance despite not having a lot of chances to practice ahead of the season. After last season and a trip home to her native Sweden, she went home to California where the weather pushed her inside to work with a simulator. She said at first her game felt a little iffy – like she had to dust off some rust – but she stayed kind to herself and kept on fighting.
“It boosts my confidence that I can handle myself out there mentally which is great,” Ridderström said. “Even if it doesn’t feel particularly great, that I can still work my way around a golf course. I think that’s important, especially as a pro — it’s not going to feel great every day.”
Twenty-seven players are even par or better after the first round, including two-time major champion Brittany Lincicome, 2022 Epson Tour winner Ssu-Chia Cheng and amateur sponsor invite Gianna Clemente.
Kiira Riihijarvi (-2, T2) on starting the 2023 season as an Epson Tour ambassador:
“[Epson’s support] it’s incredible. Just having them on this tour, getting the yardage books and lowering the [entry] fees has really been incredible. This is an expensive sport, so it’s really nice to get support from them.”
Sarah White (-1, T9) on playing in windy conditions and making eagle:
“The most important thing about playing in this kind of wind is having zero expectations. It’s literally a dog fight and you’re just trying your best. What my caddie and I did really well today was we thought the exact same and played super conservatively aggressive. 1-under, a couple three-putts; I could have been in Jillian’s [Hollis] spot, but we’ve got hopefully two more days. The eagle on No. 9 was definitely freaking awesome.”
Robyn Choi (-2, T2) on the first event of the season:
“I played a few tournaments in Australia back at home, we had the Aussie tour going on during January and February. So I was lucky enough to still play in competitions, but it’s still different coming over here. I feel fresh out here and it kind of feels like school meeting everyone back again. It doesn’t feel too different from where we left off last year. The Tour is definitely going in a better direction.”