'I knew it was going to be a good day when I hit into the water and holed out with a 9-iron from 130 yards on my first hole,' said Wilhite of Clarksville, Tenn., who volunteered with a half dozen Futures Tour players Thursday at Loretto, the tournament's charity.
But Wilhite was in good company at The Links at Erie Village with Tour veteran Michelle Murphy, who also carded a first-round 67 on the par-71, 6,224-yard course. Murphy recorded five birdies and one bogey for her round that included 27 hard-earned putts.
'My putting speeds have been bad, so I've been practicing that for the last two days,' said Murphy, 37, who played on the LPGA Tour in 1998, 2000 and 2001. 'My putting stats have been in the 30s for the last few weeks, which makes me nauseous.'
But the native of Tacoma, Wash., who has more experience than most members of the Tour, admitted that she has watched 18-year-old Aram Cho, a two-time season winner, putt for success -- taking some cues from the rookie. 'Hey, if somebody putts well, you're a fool not to watch,' Murphy said.
Murphy watched birdie putts drop today from a range of 15 to 36 feet. Wilhite, the mechanical engineer from Baylor, didn't need math skills to add up her career-low round or her 25 putts on the day with nothing outside of 18 feet. The Tennessean hit her irons close and converted for six birdies and a double bogey hiccup on No. 11, which she called 'rookie stuff.'
'Today was definitely satisfying, considering that I've managed to shoot an 80 in at least one round for the last three tournaments,' said Wilhite, 24. 'You can't do that out here.'
But while Murphy and Wilhite were taming their scorecard and putting demons, four other players had the leaders in sight, posting rounds of 3-under-par 68. Cheryl Green of Robinson, Ill., Kris Tamulis of Naples, Fla., Katie Connelly of Beloit, Wis., and Elisa Kase of Albuquerque, N.M., moved into a tie, one shot behind the leaders. It was a familiar spot for Tamulis, who finished second last week in New Hampshire.
'The biggest thing for me right now is that I'm getting closer [to winning],' said Tamulis, 23, a rookie who carded three birdies and no bogeys in today's round. 'I got outplayed in the second round last week. Winning here would be nice, but as long as I keep finishing high, that's good.'
Five players, including 2004 tournament winners Hong Mei Yang of Si Chuan, China and Nicole Perrot of Vina del Mar, Chile, are tied at 2-under 69, while seven players are tied at 1-under-par 70. In all, 30 players completed the first round at par or better.
Saturdays second round of the 54-hole tournament will begin at 8 a.m., off the first and 10th tees. The leaders will tee off at 2:09 p.m.