By DAVID WEINBERG
GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) — Australian rookie Stephanie Kyriacou shot a bogey-free, 6-under 65 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the ShopRite LPGA Classic at Seaview Hotel and Golf Club.
The 21-year-old Kyriacou, a two-time winner on the Ladies European Tour, teed off at 7:15 a.m. in the first group of the day off No. 1 on the Bay Course, before the tricky wind began to blow off Reeds Bay. At 6,197 yards, the course is among the shortest on tour, but the stiff breeze and small, undulating greens help provide a test.
“The greens are quite challenging,” Kyriacou said. “They’re pretty firm and they’re fast, so it’s kind of hard to stick (shots). But it wasn’t as windy as the practice rounds, so that was a positive.”
Sweden’s Frida Kinhult was a stroke back. Top-ranked Jin Young Ko was at 67 with Brooke Henderson, Dottie Ardina and New Jersey player Marina Alex. Alex won the Palos Verdes Championship in early May in California for her second tour title.
Twenty-time LPGA Tour winner Cristie Kerr and former local teaching pro Meaghan Francella were in the group at 68.
Kyriacou benefitted from some advice from LPGA Hall of Famer and Australian compatriot Karrie Webb earlier in the week. The 47-year-old Webb, the 2013 Shoprite winner with 41 career victories, ran into Kyriacou on the practice green Tuesday and offered some tips.
It paid off. Kyriacou carded six birdies in her bogey-free round.
“I just kind of just asked her what she did when she struggled with nerves in her prime. I just asked how she coped with it and she gave me a few tips,” Kyriacou said. “She kind of just said between shots to just close your eyes and breathe and listen to the birds and stuff. Just to get your mind off things. It’s so simple, but it’s very helpful.”
Webb shot a 73 in her first tour start since January.
Kinhult, who was the top-ranked amateur in 2019, also teed off early. The former Florida State standout started at 8:26 a.m. on No. 10. She closed with a flourish, making eagle at the par-5 ninth hole to close to within a shot of Kyriacou.
“I was looking at the leaderboard all day,” Kinhult said. “I always do. I like to have a little bit of knowing what’s going on out there. I still try to play my own game, but I saw 6 under, so I tried to catch that one, which was good motivation. It’s two more days left, so anything can happen.”
The fairways and grandstands were brimming with fans who celebrated the tournament’s return to its usual early June slot. The event was held in early October the previous two years because of scheduling conflicts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some of the loudest ovations were for Alex, the local favorite who made her LPGA Tour debut at the ShopRite Classic in 2012.
Francella is playing in her first LPGA Tour tournament in nine years, also a fan favorite. Now a teaching pro at Philadelphia Cricket Club, she has spent the last two years helping her mother battle breast cancer.
“I’m not going to quit my day job, I know that,” Francella said. “But I’m just trying to enjoy it and have fun. I have a lot of people out here watching and supporting me. I spent a lot of time in my career not enjoying it. I’m really having a lot of fun out there.”
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