Cleveland – World No. 1 Lydia Ko, 15, of New Zealand, shot a round of 6-under-par 66 on Monday to lead halfway through the first round of stroke-play qualifying at the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship at The Country Club.
With half of the 156-player field still on the course, Ko made six birdies and no bogeys on the 6,512-yard, par-72 William Flynn-designed layout. Alison Lee, 17, of Valencia, Calif., was in second place among morning finishers with a 4-under-par 68. Brooke Mackenzie Henderson, 14, of Canada, was three strokes back after a 69.
Ko, a Korean-born New Zealander who was co-medalist at the 2011 U.S. Women’s Amateur and low amateur at last month's U.S. Women's Open, is among the more well-known players in the field. Earlier this year, at the age of 14, she became the youngest person to win a professional golf tournament when she captured the New South Wales Open on the Asian Ladies Professional Golf tour. With the win she eclipsed Ryo Ishikawa, who was 15 when he won a professional tournament.
Starting play on the inward nine, Ko hit a 7-iron to within a foot of the hole on the par-3 11th. On the 12th, she hit a wedge from the rough to within a foot and made both putts for birdies.
“Two tap-in birdies were nice,” Ko said. “I didn’t have to think about the line.”
After a birdie from 9 feet on the 13th, her tee shot at the 17th landed in a divot some 90 yards from the green. A wedge shot out of the divot left her with a 10-footer for birdie, which she made. Turning to the outward nine, Ko narrowly missed a 6-foot eagle putt on the second hole, but settled for a birdie. At the seventh, she made her final birdie of the day on a putt of nearly 30 feet.
Ko's 66 is the second-lowest qualifying score recorded in this event. She also shot a 66 in qualifying last year at Rhode Island Country Club, where she fell in the second round of match play to 2010 USA Curtis Cup participant Stephanie Kono.
Lee was pleased with her 68. In late July she suffered a heart-breaking 1-down loss in the U.S. Girls’ Junior 36-hole match-play final to Australia's Minjee Lee after she was 3 up with six holes to play. Coming off a third-place showing last week at the PGA Junior Championship at Sycamore Hills G.C. in Fort Wayne, Ind., Lee is playing in her fourth competitive event in a row. After the Girls' Junior, she flew to Orlando, Fla., for the American Junior Golf Association's Wyndham Cup, a three-day Ryder-Cup style competition.
“I’ve been playing really well,” Lee said. “I’ve been doing my best not to grind. Just rest, keep my energy up. I played really freely today.”
Lee began the day with an eagle-2 on the 314-yard third hole when she holed a wedge shot from 70 yards. She followed with three birdies, including a 2-putt birdie from 50 feet on the par-5 16th hole.
Rhonda Glenn is a manager of communications for the USGA. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.