KONO THE OUTRIGHT LEADER AFTER 36 HOLES
FRENCH LICK, Ind. — On moving day at the Donald Ross Classic, the top of the leaderboard featured plenty of shifting parts and when the dust settled it was Stephanie Kono (Honolulu, Hawaii) with the solo advantage at 8-under par overall.
The UCLA alumna carded a 5-under par 66 in the second round, finding six birdies and one bogey to jump from tied for eighth to first.
“I kept myself out of trouble and I’ve had a lot of wedges in,” said Kono, who has a season-best finish of tied for 15th at the Forsyth Classic. “My wedge game has been really, really good this week. I think that’s where I got most of my chances.”
This won’t be the first time that Kono has been in the final pairing. Last year, she was tied for the lead at the Gateway Classic in Mesa, Ariz., at Longbow Golf Club. The result may have been different than what she was looking for, but it is one that has her hungry for this new opportunity.
“It was a really good experience for me,” Kono said. “I was a little bit nervous on the first tee and I found out what my misses are when I’m under pressure. I’m still learning every day. Hopefully tomorrow I can draw back on that experience.”
Kono will be joined at 1:20 p.m. ET tomorrow in the last group by Isi Gabsa (Munich, Germany), a winner on the Symetra Tour already this season. The Forsyth Classic champion stayed steady today, turning in a 2-under par showing to enter the final round at 7-under par overall.
“Already knowing how it is to be in this spot, it does help a little,” said Gabsa. “It’s also still exciting to win and you will always be nervous about it, no matter what. By my game, if I get cautious I screw up, so I’m not allowed to get protective of my scores. I will try to go for it.”
Meanwhile, a group of three players are two shots back of Kono heading into the final day, including Karen Chung (Livingston, New Jersey), Clariss Guce (Artesia, California) and Mia Piccio (Bacolod City, Philippines). After firing a bogey-free, 5-under par today, Chung will head out at 1:10 p.m. tomorrow in the penultimate pairing.
“I’m going to see how it goes, first have to survive the walk,” Chung said laughingly. “The par-5s are super short on the front nine, so those are attackable. This course is tough and my game had gone to sleep for a couple weeks, so it’s nice to be back up top.”
The other half of the group playing with Chung is Guce, who went 4-under par this afternoon. With three top-10 finishes already this year, Guce pointed to one aspect of her game that has led to her success at the Donald Ross Course.
“Tee shots have been pretty reliable, having the ball in play at the beginning is a huge boost of confidence since it’s easy to get in trouble off the tee,” Guce said. “It’s fun seeing girls shoot better scores, of course you want to get there too. This is why we practice so much, to put yourself in this position. When my heart races and everything, I feel good. I like the pressure.”
Also in the mix at 6-under par overall is Piccio. She signed a 4-under par scorecard today that consisted of five birdies and two bogeys. At 1 p.m. tomorrow, the University of Florida alumna will start the final round paired with Becca Huffer (Denver, Colorado), who is coming off a career-best solo second finish at the Prasco Charity Championship.
“I’ve been feeling good about my game since the beginning of our June stretch,” said Piccio, who has now made five consecutive cuts. “I know if I pick a right number and the right spot on the green, I could still swing right at it. Just need to be smart. If I play smart, then I’ll be fine.”
A total of 71 players made the cut of 1-over par. Final round action begins tomorrow at 7:30 a.m. ET with each group going off No. 1 tee.
ACES WILD ON FRIDAY THE 13TH
A Symetra Tour record was set in the second round of the Donald Ross Classic when four players recorded a hole-in-one, including three on the uphill par-3 4th hole.
Kayla Sciupider (Etowah, N.C.), Charlotte Thomas (Guildford, England) and Sadena Parks (Raleigh, N.C.) all struck gold from 168 yards. The moment was extra special for Sciupider, however, as it was her first hole-in-one.
“I looked at my yardage book and saw a slope past the pin, so I figured I could hit enough club that if it goes past it was going to come back,” said Sciupider, who used a Titleist 915 3-hybrid. “We couldn’t really see over the hill, saw the guys do a touchdown sign or something. No one yelled, then we got up and it was in the hole. It was pretty cool.”
Meanwhile, there was some inspiration behind Thomas’ sixth ace and fourth in competition. During the Pro-Am event on Wednesday, her playing partner Larry Kalb, owner of Legendz Sports Bar & Grill in downtown French Lick, found the bottom of the cup on his first swing of the day. He won a two-year lease on a Ford F-150 from key tournament sponsor Ruxer Ford Lincoln.
“I walked up to the tee and was like this is a similar pin position to where he got it,” said Thomas, who used a Ping G400 4-hybrid. “I hit it and saw it go long over the back on the slope. I threw a couple of balls at the slope in the practice round to see if it would come back. Saw it start rolling back and thought that should be good. Looked away then heard a noise and realized it went in.”
The final player to sink a hole-in-one on No. 4 today was Parks. She used a 7-iron to connect for her first ace in competition and fourth overall.
“It’s very special, everyone was congratulating me which is nice,” Parks said. “It’s good to be congratulated about something, especially when you miss the cut. It’s heartwarming and momentum to take into next week.”
To complete the historic day, sponsor exemption Brittany Kelly (Indianapolis, Indiana) scored her third hole-in-one and second in competition on the par-3 6th hole. The PGA Assistant Golf Professional at Woodland Country Club used a 9-iron from 130 yards.
AUGUST KIM WITHIN STRIKING DISTANCE
On July 9, 2017, August Kim (St. Augustine, Florida) watched Erynne Lee (Silverdale, Washington) raise the Donald Ross Classic trophy after falling to the eventual Symetra Tour graduate on the third hole of a sudden-death playoff.
Now, just over a year later, Kim is once again in prime position to make a run in the final round. She heads into tomorrow at 5-under par overall, only three shots back of the lead.
Earlier in the week, Kim said she did not want to let expectations from her most recent performance at the Donald Ross Course bog her down. However, we’re past that as opportunity is knocking for a second straight time at this event.
“The whole time I just wanted to put myself in contention,” said Kim, who shot a 3-under par 68 today, with four birdies and one bogey. “Now that has happened, I’m more excited to be back where I was because I know I can pull it off if I just have a good day.”
Her mother, father and sister all made the trip to French Lick, as well as other familiar faces for the Purdue University alumna. Four donors to the Boilermakers women’s golf program, including two who supported Kim’s scholarship during her time in West Lafayette, have ventured to see the former two-time First Team All-Big Ten performer in action as a professional.
Kim heads off No. 1 tee tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. ET with playing partner Emily Collins (Dallas, Texas).
“Playing in the afternoon, fairways dry out and you can get 10 yards extra in roll,” Kim said. “The greens are grabbing more regardless. There are going to be a lot of birdies out there. I’m actually raring to go, very excited.”
STEPHANIE KONO ROUND 2 INTERVIEW