ARDINA SETS 18-HOLE SCORING MARK, LEADS BY TWO
LONGWOOD, Fla. — A dazzling bogey-free, 8-under par 63 from Dottie Ardina (Laguna, Philippines) this afternoon in the first round of the fifth annual IOA Golf Classic has the current No. 1 in the Volvik Race for the Card leading by two strokes at Alaqua Country Club.
The performance set the 18-hole tournament scoring mark, which was previously held by 2017 champion Hannah Green (Perth, Australia) after she fired an opening day 7-under par 64 last year.
“To be honest, I didn’t really expect to shoot low today,” said Ardina. “I was worried about the greens because I don’t read them that well when it is Bermuda grass. All the credit for the birdies and reads goes to my caddie Jay [Davey]. We had a really hot start with four birdies in a row after starting on the back nine.”
Ardina is still chasing her first win after four runner-up finishes already this season, and five total top-10s. It would be the final piece to an impressive 2018 campaign.
“We have two more tournaments and I am still hungry for that win,” Ardina said. “Hopefully this week I will pull it off. As long as I’m hitting it closer to the hole and making putts for the next two days, I think I can win here.”
In solo second just two shots back is Sarah Schmelzel (Phoenix, Arizona). The University of South Carolina alumna carded an eagle, five birdies and only one bogey today.
“It is a new week, haven’t had a tournament where I had to play practice rounds everyday coming into it,” said Schmelzel, making her first start in the IOA Golf Classic. “I feel like it prepared me really well, was very meticulous going through yardage books and getting notes. The key to success today was staying in my game and trusting the work I’ve put in. I just let it happen instead of forcing it, which has been the big thing for me as of late.”
Meanwhile, just behind Ardina and Schmelzel is a group of five players at 5-under par. One of those individuals is Demi Runas (Torrance, California), the lone bogey-free member of the bunch.
“I feel like I’m treating these last couple weeks as one big tournament, kind of like a final push,” said Runas, currently No. 36 in the Volvik Race for the Card. “To get off to a solid start felt really good. I’ve given myself a lot of opportunities the last few weeks and just haven’t been able to capitalize.”
Down to the last chances to make a move toward a full LPGA Tour card for 2019, it warrants a greater focus than any other time during the season. Runas has noticed that and is taking it in stride.
“I was actually speaking with my sports psychologist and she asked how I was feeling, would be lying if I said I wasn’t stressed out,” Runas said. “It has been a long season. To have it start off up and down for me then give myself a couple good finishes here and there, obviously I feel like I need to push and press a little bit, but I’m just trying to stay in the moment.”
A total of 64 players sit at even par or better, while 26 individuals are 3-under par or better. Second round action begins tomorrow at 8 a.m. ET with groups going off No. 1 and No. 10 tees.
LIU FIRES SOLID ROUND AFTER SECURING FULL LPGA TOUR CARD
In the hunt after day one at Alaqua Country Club is Ruixin Liu (Dalian, China), who became the second player to secure her spot in the top-10 and earn a LPGA Tour card for 2019 earlier this week.
Liu recorded seven birdies and two bogeys today en route to a 5-under par 66. The result came on the heels of learning she would finish the year in the top-10.
“After I know I’m secure, I feel much more free when I go out there and play,” said Liu, current No. 2 in the Volvik Race for the Card. “Before, when I make a bogey or play bad I would get nervous, anxious and angry with myself. Today when I got a bogey, I was like we can get it back. Just much more relaxed and actually enjoying the round, the feeling is really good.”
A champion on the Symetra Tour this season at the Island Resort Championship in late June, Liu is coming off back-to-back top-five finishes. She ended the Murphy USA El Dorado Shootout tied for third, then went tied for second in the Guardian Championship last week.
The performances put Liu over the edge and have her ready to head to the big stage.
“Totally saved me and I’m really proud of what I did the last two weeks,” Liu said. “Not really expecting it before I started, but last week after the first round I felt pretty confident. Not overconfident to the point I thought I would get it for sure, just comfortable on the course.”
Even with the main objective accomplished, Liu still has her sights set high.
“Today I played really good, but my goal right now is to try and get another win, then go for the No. 1 spot,” said Liu, who sits at $68,589 earned through 19 starts. “They aren’t things I have to do, but it is always good to have a goal in mind.”
SCHMELZEL MAKING CHARGE TOWARD TOP-10
She may have flown under the radar for much of 2018, but Sarah Schmelzel is no longer in that boat having cracked the top-20 in the Volvik Race for the Card at No. 19 following a solo fourth finish in Prattville, Ala. last week and after the first round she put together today.
The adjustment from college may have taken some time, but Schmelzel is finally to a point of peace in her game at the professional level.
“I only played half the year last year and came out almost like a deer in the headlights where I just hoped to make a check, make the cut,” said Schmelzel. “This year I came out with a little of the same timidness at the beginning, but worked a lot with my coach back home on letting it go. That has been the biggest thing for me this year—trusting my swing, that it is fundamentally sound, my slight mishits are not that bad. It has been a getting out of my own way sort of thing, where I’m just going to see what happens instead of being a control freak.”
Across 19 starts, Schmelzel has earned $38,826 thanks to 10 top-25 results, which includes five top-10s. In addition, two top-five finishes over the last three events have all the momentum in her favor.
Now she is knocking on the doorstep of the top-10 in the Volvik Race for the Card, just $15,622 out of the final position in that group.
“I’m at a point where I have nothing to lose, am more gas pedal to the floor and giving it my all instead of getting defensive, which is when things start to go bad,” Schmelzel said. “That is where I have a slight advantage in that I know I just have to give it my all and not leave anything on the table so as not to regret that.”
Furthermore, Schmelzel is ranked in the top-15 in several statistical categories including scoring average (71.00), sub-par rounds (55.4 percent), par-4 average (4.009), sub-par holes (184), par-5 average (4.755) and birdies (180).
The numbers tell the story of a strong year and with a couple more impressive rounds at the IOA Golf Classic, as well as a big finish at the season finale Symetra Tour Championship next week, Schmelzel would completely erase any remnants of a deer in the headlights look.
“I would say I’m not trying to be numbers oriented, just going out everyday to make as many birdies as I can and wherever I end up on the leaderboard is where I end up,” said Schmelzel. “My dad would always say to me growing up, ‘Just because you’re not No. 1 on the leaderboard doesn’t mean that you didn’t win that week.’ So it is taking the little wins throughout and building the positives. Those numbers surprise me for sure, but it is nice to hear.”
DOTTIE ARDINA'S OPENING ROUND INTERVIEW