Day 1 Leaders Emerge at FIR HILLS SERI PAK Championship

Day 1 Leaders Emerge at FIR HILLS SERI PAK Championship

By Emily Cho

 

PALOS VERDES ESTATES, Calif. – Seventeen is definitely Danielle Kang’s lucky number. Only on her second hole of the day of the FIR HILLS Seri Pak Championship, Kang ripped a 170 yard 5 iron onto the green and watched as it rolled right into the hole–her 17th career ace.

 

“It's sometimes luck, but I absolutely pured it,” Kang said. “I just hit my 5-iron exactly where I wanted to hit it and we all just kind of stared it down, and Andrea (LPGA player) just reacted so cute. She was just like, oh, my God, oh, my God. She screamed.”

 

Kang has not only had 17 hole in ones, but five of those have been on a 17th hole. Three of those were with the 17 number ball.

 

Along with the excitement of a hole in one so early in the morning, there would be more great golf being played later in the day.

 

Maude-Aimee Leblanc sits at the top of the leaderboard with a score of 7 under. The Canadian has many goals, including competing in the Olympics. But first, she is trying to secure this tournament on her win list.

 

“I felt like I hit [the] ball really well today and whenever I missed the green I was able to make up and down,” Leblanc said. “Made some really good saves and just kept the momentum going throughout the round, so, yeah, the putting was good as well.” 

 

A very hot take, Leblanc enjoys putting on the poa annua grass on this course, despite the  tricky greens. But to help her out, she has her mental coach on the bag, to help with her mindset and golf game this week.

 

Malia Nam is a close second, just one stroke behind Leblanc. Nam is a golfer and surfer. When she’s not surfing or practicing when she visits Hawaii, she’s back in the states competing, having attended the University of Southern California before turning pro. She knows the Palos Verdes course well. 

 

“It's really nice to come back to a course that I'm really familiar with. It definitely helped knowing where not to miss and where to miss,” said Nam. “I wish couple more putts could have dropped, but, you know, it is what it is.”

 

The course definitely was no easy track for her. She cruised through the front 9, holing out on the 5th hole for eagle, but the back 9 slowed down Nam just before she was about to finish the round.

 

“I kept hitting really good shots in so it wasn't to like I was scrambling. I kept telling myself, obviously you're hitting good shots. My putter let me down on the back nine. Of course you can't make every single putt.”

 

Tied for 3rd at 5 under is Madelene Sagstrom, who has been riding on a tournament high for a few weeks, and feels even better after her round today.

 

“I felt good and loose. Normally I feel like it can be a little cold and I start trying a little bit too hard,” said Sagstrom. “I've had the mindset this week of try less.” 

 

Right there with Sagstrom is Alison Lee. Lee said she has been feeling good all day, especially playing in the morning with the windless weather. She went into this week reminding herself that not all putts are going to go in and she has to accept it and move on.

 

“Today I hit a lot of good pretty much shots so I gave myself a lot of good birdie opportunity from a closer distance,” Lee said. “Definitely when you get outside of 20 feet or if you're within the three to five foot range you start to sweat a little bit.”

 

The third golfer t tied for third is Yuka Saso. She has missed the cut at this course the past few times the LPGA has come here, and has made a huge turnaround in being in the top 3.

 

“Sometimes like it's better to expect to play good and play good than not expecting to play good and play good,” said Saso. “So I wasn't really expecting to like play not so good, so I think this round is where I think my game feels at the moment right now.”

 

Two strokes behind is Brooke Henderson, who has been moving around at the top of the leaderboard all day. Henderson acknowledges the trickiness of the course, but is satisfied with her under par round after how she started the day.

 

“I actually was 2-over through my first four holes, so I went on a nice little run there, lots of birdies,” Henderson said. “Feel like I have a lot of good momentum and some confidence going into tomorrow, so hopefully just move on up tomorrow.”

 

Throughout the day, the golfers have been  star struck, as Seri Pak roams the course. Seri Pak and Annika Sörenstam have been big inspirations in the female golf world, and both have tournaments named after them.

 

Lee grew up a South Korean golfer like Pak.

 

“When she was playing really well, especially my dad, he saw that on TV and saw a little bit of me in her, too. That's why he introduced me to the game.”

 

Lee also appreciates seeing legends like Pak giving back to junior golf, and remembers playing with her when she was 14, trying to qualify for the U.S. Open.

 

“Hopefully we have more people like Seri and Annika moving forward who become big names in women's golf and super recognizable, giving back, and, you know, more girls like that little girls can look up to like myself.”

 

Pak sees this week as something special, as it’s the first tournament with her name on it. She is excited to see friends like Lee, whom she has played with and is used to seeing every week on the tour.

 

“I'm really excited to come back in U.S. and doing the tournament and see my friends here and there, and then of course the fans out there this week. I'm hoping to see more,” said Pak.

 

Round 2 will begin tomorrow with the first tee times at 7:00AM.

March 21, 2024
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