Former LPGA Member Grabs Lead In Season Opener


Duramed FUTURES TourLAKELAND, Fla. -- After spending the last three seasons on the LPGA Tour, Sae Hee Son felt an odd sense of nervousness as she entered today's first round of the season-opening $85,000 Bright House Networks Open.
But that twitch in her gut also could have been a reminder that the last time the Korean had visited Cleveland Heights Golf Course in the fall of 2004, she had breezed through the Duramed FUTURES Tour's Qualifying Tournament en route to LPGA Final Q-School where she earned her exempt 2005 status. Son left Cleveland Heights and never looked back until she once again stood on the first tee today.
And today, the now-seasoned professional posted the morning number that everybody chased all day, carding a bogey-free, six-under-par score of 66.
'I feel great now, but I was just a little bit nervous today,' said Son, 22, of Seoul, Korea. 'I have had three years on the LPGA Tour and I improved my course management and putting. But I still need a lot of experience.
Now a resident of Orlando, Fla., Son produced a well-balanced round with three birdies on the front and three birdies on the back nine and rolled in 26 putts.
Finishing two shots back at 68 (-4) in the first round was fourth-year player Jessica Shepley, who also played in the morning rounds and started on the back nine of the par-72, 6,258-yard course with four birdies. The Canadian finished her day birdie-bogey on the front nine, rolling in a 12-footer on No. 8, but stumbling with three putts from 30 feet on the difficult par-three ninth green - the course's toughest-playing hole today.
'I didn't hit my irons particularly well, but I got away with it,' said Shepley, 24, of Oakville, Ontario. 'I wanted to get off to a good start and get comfortable out there.'
Today's season-opening first round was a crucial test for Shepley, a former All-SEC player at the University of Tennessee, who, by her own admission, has fallen short of lofty expectations as she has transitioned from collegiate to the professional ranks. Fed up with poor 2007 season results, the Canadian left the Tour before the end of the season last year and went home to Ontario to regroup.
'I've refocused on every aspect of my life and golf game and re-evaluated my goals,' she said. 'Now I know that it's not always about doing what I want to do, but about doing what I need to do.'
Returning players Annie Young and Yeon Joo Lee were the first to jump onto the leaderboard this morning, both posting rounds of three-under-par 69. Lee's low round marked a return from an injury-shortened season last year in which she struggled with an injured disk in her back. Young's start was a continuation of her pre-season tune-up, in which she won a Phoenix-based mini-tour event three weeks ago.
'I've thought a lot about Emily Bastel and Allison Fouch, who finished No. 1 and 2 [on the Tour's money list] out here last year, and it wasn't always great for them, but they stuck it out and finally got what they wanted,' said Young of Highland, Utah, a third-year pro and former All-American at Oklahoma State University. 'I've probably put too much pressure on myself to get to the next level, rather than enjoying where I am. My attitude this year has to be that this is a great stepping stone and that I just have to give myself opportunities.'
A total of eight players are tied at three-under-par 69, including 2005 Lakeland tournament winner Jin Young Pak of Kang Leung, South Korea, Mindy Kim of Diamond Bar, Calif., Alissa Kuczka of Phoenix, Song Yi Choi of Seoul, Korea, Leah Wigger of Louisville, Ky., and former two-time Tour champion Stephanie George of Myerstown, Pa.
In spite of an afternoon rain that set in and dampened opening day for the 2008 Duramed FUTURES Tour, at least one player in the afternoon rounds seemed unfazed by the drizzle and happy to finally be competing again since the season ended last September.
'It feels good to come out here and shoot a 69 because it was pretty cold being at home in Louisville [Ky.] this winter, hitting shots in a heated area,' said Wigger, playing in her first full season.
The tournament's defending champion Lori Atsedes of Ithaca, N.Y., carded a one-under-par score of 71, while heralded rookie Vicky Hurst of Melbourne, Fla., made her professional debut with a plus-one score of 73.
'I wasn't really nervous,' said Hurst, 17, this week's cover-girl feature in Golfweek magazine. 'The greens just weren't good to me.'
Saturday's second round will begin at 8:30 a.m., off the first and tenth tees. The leaders will tee off at 2:39 p.m.
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Weather: Partly cloudy turning to mostly cloudy with afternoon rain. Temperatures dropping from mid-70s to mid-60s with wind around 7 mph.