LPGA Symetra Tour: Unknowns rise to the top of Round 1 leaderboard at Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass

HARRIS – The opening round of Friday’s third annual Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass looked a lot like the opening portion of the Symetra Tour season.

A large group of contenders, many of them virtually unknown, surfaced on the leaderboard at Sweetgrass Golf Club under overcast, breezy conditions. The wind buffeted the players later in the day, directly affecting shots on four incoming holes on each nine. The greens and fairways were receptive after nearly an inch of rain Thursday.

The top five finished before 1 p.m.

Jenni Jenq of Saratoga, Calif., playing in the fifth group of the morning round, posted a 5-under-par 67, a stroke off the course and tourney record.

A stroke back are Jacey Chun of Seoul, South Korea, Lacey Agnew of Jonesboro, Ark. and Hannah Yun of San Diego. Brittany Altomare of Shrewsbury, Mass. had 69. Six more players were at 70, another 17 shot 71 and a dozen matched par at 72.

No one from that group has ever won a Symetra Tour title, coming in a season where six different players have won the six previous events.

The leader underlines the volatility of those top 40 players. Jenq, 27, is a rookie who only gained full Symetra status a month into this season. The Wellesly College graduate played amateur golf in California after graduating in 2008 and won six events, including the state amateur. She also had two wins on the state’s Grasshopper Tour before moving to the Symetra ranks, tying for 27th in her best outing.

“I didn’t hit that well today but I hit a ton of par putts from about 15 feet,” said Jenq, who had six birdies. “Making those putts really got it going for me.”

Nicole Vandermade of Brantford, Ont., one of the sextet at 70, flirted with the leaderboard all day and was tied with Jenq several times before faltering down the stretch. She birdied four of the first five holes and said “I just tried to stay calm, keep my focus and stick with my game plan. The first day I tried to get a good start and get set up for the rest of the tournament.”

Elisa Serramia of Barcelona, Spain, who also shot 70, had the day’s lone eagle, dunking a 77-yard approach on the 18th hole. She won $100 for that shot and Island Resort and Casino matched that with a contribution to her favorite charity, Wounded Warriors.

Three cast members of Big Break Mexico played Friday, with Stefanie Kenoyer and Taylor Collins at 71 and Emily Talley had 73. Kenoyer said 63 would have been in reach had she hit some putts that were in her range.

Stephanie Kim, who won the first Island Resort event in 2011, is playing just her second tournament of the season after missing much of the time since that victory with an ankle injury. The rust showed as she shot 83, tying Carley Saint-Onge of Marquette and Kristin Walla for the worst round.

Kim had a staggering 6-over-par 11 on the ninth hole, rinsing her tee shot and then hitting her approach shot out of bounds.

“That was my shining moment this year,” Kim said of that explosion.

“I air-mailed the green,” she said, hitting a 160-yard approach that was actually just 140 yards. “You’ve got to take it with humor, I hit a brain fart. It was a mediocre round punctuated by a really, really bad hole. I just wasn’t ready (for tournament golf).”

Saint-Onge, a Michigan State golfer, had two blow-up triple-bogey holes that likely will force her to miss the cut for the third straight year. She dunked her tee shot on the island green (No. 15) and then three-putted, and splashed a shot on No. 18 for an eight.

On No. 15 she said the wind caught her shot and pushed it left into the water, but said her approach shots were a big issue.

“I missed a lot of greens,” Saint-Onge said. “I’m not disappointed. I was playing good until those two holes, but that is the way golf is.”

Round two begins at 7:30 a.m. today, with the top 70 or so advancing to Sunday’s final round.