Photo by Darren Carroll/USGA
Suthavee Chanachai didn’t know what to expect from her first-ever round in a USGA championship on Monday. The 23-year-old from Thailand, who just graduated in May from New Mexico State, hadn’t even tried to qualify before filing an application earlier this spring for the 121st U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship at Westchester Country Club.
Chanachai carried the momentum from shooting 69 in her qualifier to Westchester Country Club, firing a 3-under-par 69 on the West Course to grab the first-round lead. Her five-birdie, two-bogey performance left the two-time Western Athletic Conference player of the year one stroke clear of five players.
Since graduating with a degree in hotel, restaurant and tourism management, Chanachai has spent the summer working at New Mexico State’s golf course to save money for a pending professional career. In fact, her only competitive round before Monday was the qualifier at Papago Golf Course in Phoenix, Ariz., on June 30. After this week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur, she hopes to make a run through LPGA Tour Q-School, which begins Aug. 15 in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
“No, not at all,” said Chanachai if she had high pre-championship expectations. “That's not my goal. The goal is basically focusing on the process. I don't want to put expectations out there. If I play good, I play good. If I play bad, I play bad. It's golf.”
There was plenty of good golf on Monday. Chanachai said all five of her birdies were from 15 feet and in. Consecutive birdies on Nos. 4 and 5 – her 13th and 14th holes, as she started on No. 10 – pushed her briefly to 4 under par before she gave back one stroke on the 324-yard seventh, a hole with one of the most challenging green complexes on the course.
“I'm just happy to be able to roll some putts in and then I have my friend [Seth Abrahmson] on my bag, too, so it's pretty fun today,” said Chanachai, whose older sister, Suteera, also played at New Mexico State from 2007-11. “That's all that mattered.”
The field of 156 players was greeted with a chamber-of-commerce day with bright sunshine and comfortable temperatures in the 70s with little humidity. But winds that gusted as high as 14 mph created a challenge, along with the undulating green complexes of the Walter Travis design that was an annual PGA Tour stop for more than 40 years and the host site of the 2015 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
Aneka Seumanutafa had an additional challenge. She was practicing at her Maryland club on Saturday when she was alerted that a spot in the field had become available due to a last-minute withdrawal. The first alternate from the Dayton, Ohio qualifier and rising Ohio State junior eagerly accepted, and was among the group who posted 70s on Monday.
Seumanutafa, who has qualified for match play in all three of her previous U.S. Women’s Amateur starts, left Emmitsburg, Md., at 5 a.m. on Sunday and following the four-hour ride, had more than enough time to familiarize herself with the championship layout.
“It really means a lot,” said Seumanutafa, whose first U.S. Women’s Amateur appearance came six years ago as a 14-year-old. “Getting that call I was just like shocked. I was so excited.”
Joining Seumanutafa with 70s were Anna Morgan, of Spartanburg, S.C., the runner-up in last month’s Women’s North & South Amateur at Pinehurst No. 2; Californians Hailey Borja (Lake Forest) and Brooke Seay (San Diego); and rising high school senior Bridget Ma, of Windermere, Fla.
Seay, a rising junior at Stanford University, is making her sixth start in the championship, the most of any competitor.
Seven players posted 1-under 71s, including 2020 quarterfinalist Riley Smyth, of Cary, N.C., and 2020 Women’s North & South Amateur champion Rachel Kuehn, of Asheville, N.C.
The second round of stroke play will take place on Tuesday with the low 64 scorers qualifying for match play, which commences on Wednesday. If a playoff is necessary to determine the final match-play spots, it will take place on Tuesday, weather and daylight permitting, on holes 1, 2 and 18.
Defending champion Rose Zhang, of Irvine, Calif., who is No. 1 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking®/WAGR®, opened stroke play with a 1-over-par 73. Zhang, who won the U.S. Girls’ Junior last month, is bidding for a third USGA title in the past 12 months. Eun Jeong Seong was the last person to accomplish that feat in 2016.
Zhang is currently on quite a whirlwind. After winning the U.S. Girls’ Junior, she flew to France to play in the Amundi Evian Championship. After this week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur, she will fly to Scotland to play in the AIG Women’s British Open at Carnoustie, and then stay in the United Kingdom to represent the USA in the Curtis Cup Match in Wales Aug. 26-28.
Claire Connolly, 28, of Chevy Chase, Md., one of four mid-amateurs in the field and one of two who qualified for the championship, carded a 1-under 71. Connolly, an account executive for Maui Jim Sunglasses, previously worked part-time in the golf shop at Columbia Country Club, site of this year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior, and she also caddies at Congressional Country Club, site of the 2011 U.S. Open.
A couple of other notables had decidedly different results in Round 1. Reigning NCAA champion and world No. 2 Rachel Heck, one of three players just named to the 2021 USA Curtis Cup Team, opened with a 2-over 74, while Holmdel, N.J., teenager, Megha Ganne, the low amateur in this year’s U.S. Women’s Open, had a disappointing 79.
Savannah Barber and Alexa Saldana, who won the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball title in April, shot 78 and 81, respectively.
Two-time USGA champion Erica Shepherd (2017 U.S. Girls’ Junior, 2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball) shot a 2-over 74.
Two-time U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur champion Lara Tennant (2018, 2019), coming off a tie for 29th in the U.S. Senior Women’s Open that concluded Sunday up the road at Brooklawn C.C. in Fairfield, Conn., registered a first-round 79. Tennant has her husband, Bob, on the bag this week after having one of her daughters do the honors last week.
Alvaro Ortiz, who captured the 2019 Latin America Amateur Championship, is serving as the caddie for Brooke Matthews, a fellow Razorback from the University of Arkansas. Ortiz registered his first professional victory in March on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica. His older brother, Carlos, just tied for 42nd in the Olympics.
The stroke average for Round 1 was 76.69.