GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. – Sherri Steinhauer has taken the lead after the first round of the $1.5 million ShopRite LPGA Classic.
The 47-year-old, who was sidelined last year after surgeries on both hips, shot a 7-under 64 for a one-shot lead over Natalie Gulbis and Spain’s Tania Elosegui at the Bay Course at Seaview.
“Yeah, it feels really good,” Steinhauer said. “After being off last year with hip surgery, two hip surgeries, to be back and to be in the media tent feels good. To have a 64 under my belt after not playing golf—I didn’t touch a club for 14 months, so it feels real good to get a round like this.”
Brittany Lincicome, Suzann Pettersen and Paula Creamer, who is playing in her first event since surgery on her left wrist on March 31, were in another large group three shots back.
Steinhauer had six birdies, a 30-foot eagle on No. 9 and only one blip, a bogey on No. 8 after a bad drive. Not bad for someone who had played in only five events this year and missed the cut in the past two, including last week’s State Farm Classic.
The road back has been a long one for Steinhauer. The eight-time winner on the LPGA Tour thought her career might be over in August 2008 when she missed the cut in the Canadian Open after two painful rounds.
“I didn’t know if I would ever play golf again,” Steinhauer said. “It was on Friday. I was missing the cut, and I was walking up the fairway with tears in my eyes thinking: ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever play professional golf again.”’
Steinhauer had surgery on her left hip in February 2009. Three months later her right hip was fixed and the rehabilitation process started. She didn’t pick up a club until October, when she started hitting wedges. By the end of the month, she was taking full swings.
All the work paid off on Friday.
“I just love playing golf,” said Steinhauer, who will be an assistant captain on the 2011 U.S. Solheim Cup team, “I love competing. You know, hey, if my career ends because I can’t play anymore, that’s OK. I’ll move on. But I’m not satisfied just giving up, so I wanted to work hard because I love it.”
Creamer, who is still bothered by wrist pain, might have been just as surprising a story as Steinhauer. She played her first full round earlier this week and had six birdies and two bogeys on Friday.
“I was nervous, I didn’t know what to expect,” Creamer said. “Like I said I am glad to be out here and have the opportunity to play.”
Gulbis had six birdies and no bogeys in launching her bid for a second career win. Elosegui, who has won on the women’s European tour, putted extremely well, making seven birdies in shooting a 65.
Cristie Kerr, who became the first American to win on the LPGA tour when she won the State Farm Classic in Illinois on Monday, was at 3 under. Michelle Wie had a disappointing 3-over 74. Fifteen-year-old Alexis Thompson shot a par 71 in her professional debut.
The 54-hole tournament, which folded in the fall of 2006 in a dispute over dates with LPGA leadership, is scheduled to end Sunday.