FOUR TIED FOR LEAD AFTER OPENING ROUND
FRENCH LICK, Ind. — When first round action of the Donald Ross Classic concluded today, four individuals saw their name tied for the lead of 5-under par, including Haley Mills (Tyler, Texas), Isi Gabsa (Munich, Germany), Muni He (Chengdu, China) and Sarah Schmelzel (Phoenix, Arizona).
Each player traversed the hilly terrain of the Donald Ross Course in a different way, but ended day one in the same position. However, there may be a bigger target on the back of the most recent Symetra Tour winner.
“I felt a little more confident within my own game and myself,” said He, who signed a bogey-free scorecard this afternoon. “I was still a bit nervous coming into the event because I didn’t know if anything was going to change after the off week and if my game was going to still feel in control to me. After today, I like the consistency that I’ve been keeping up with.”
Another exemplary performance was turned in by Gabsa, with nothing but pars and birdies to show from today’s round. With her dad Guenther on the bag, Gabsa made things look easy, but she said the track is the most challenging on the Symetra Tour schedule to date.
“It’s a tough course with tough greens, and I’m not the best lag putter,” said Gabsa, the current No. 4 in the Volvik Race for the Card. “It doesn’t fit me perfectly. The greens, you have to hit it on the right spot and then you still have a tough putt, hopefully be smart about it.”
Meanwhile, Mills started on No. 10 and came out guns blazing. She carded six birdies on the back nine to go out in 6-under par 29, taking sole possession of the lead for some time.
Then the birdie train came to a screeching halt on the par-5 5th hole. Trouble off the tee led to a triple bogey, but Mills responded with a pair of birdies down the stretch to shoot her best round of the year and stay in the hunt.
“It actually makes me feel better because I can shoot 66 with a triple,” said Mills, who only needed 25 putts today. “I felt pretty calm out there, making a bunch of putts which is nice because I haven’t been putting well. Feel good going into tomorrow.”
Finally, like Mills, Schmelzel also found the secret formula for her season-best round. The University of South Carolina alumna used seven birdies and two bogeys to position herself for a weekend run.
“Kind of got off to a bumpy start, just a little timid around the greens and not really seeing things very well,” Schmelzel said. “Especially the [practice] putting green not being as undulated as the greens out here, you get your first downhill putt and you’re a little nervous about how fast it actually is. It’s just feeling it out, make sure you get comfortable because there is so much slope. The speed and line are so important. I stayed patient, had a lot of putts inside 10 feet finally drop today that hadn’t been dropping the past couple weeks.”
After 18 holes, a total of 70 players sit at 1-over par or better. Furthermore, the top-10 competitors are at 3-under par or better and they represent seven different countries.
Second round action picks up tomorrow at 7:30 a.m. ET with players going off No. 1 and No. 10 tees.
SEONG FINDING COMFORT LEVEL IN ROOKIE SEASON
One of three players just one shot back of the lead heading into the second round is 18-year-old Eun Jeong Seong (Yongin, Republic of Korea), also one of three individuals of that age in the 144-player Donald Ross Classic field.
She may be young and making just her sixth career Symetra Tour start, but Seong is already demonstrating her readiness for the next level.
Before coming to the United States, she spent time on the Jump Tour, the LPGA of Korea Tour’s version of the Symetra Tour. Seong said that prepared her for the transition to a new environment and stage of competition.
“It’s pretty hard here because there’s many Ladies European Tour players, and then some who played LPGA Tour before,” said Seong. “I learn with them and I enjoy it. The courses are way different in Korea and here. Korean is near everywhere, but here I have to drive like 10 hours. I’m so tired on Monday, but I really like this.”
In the last five events, Seong made four cuts, never finishing outside the top-30. The results also include a season-best tied for second finish at the Four Winds Invitational.
Needless to say, the teenager brings a great deal of trust in her game to the Donald Ross Course this week, even with the challenge it proposes.
“I’m very confident today because I can start very well,” said Seong, who scored seven birdies and three bogeys in round one. “These tournaments I just keep going with a confident shot. But, the course is very tough because I can’t control backspin. I hit wedge a lot, but the spin is very hard.”
Seong will look to continue building momentum tomorrow in the second round when she begins at 1:36 p.m. ET off No. 10 tee.
MUNI HE OPENING ROUND INTERVIEW