LOS ANGELES – Alison Lee shot a 5-under 66 on Thursday afternoon at breezy Wilshire Country Club to take the first-round lead in the DIO Implant LA Open.
The resurgent former UCLA star had the lone bogey-free round of the day in testing conditions with the wind gusting to 25 mph to start the LPGA Tour's two-week run in the Los Angeles area, with the Palos Verdes Championship next week.
“I feel really comfortable,” Lee said. “I would say it’s not so much the course, but just being in L.A., seeing a bunch of familiar faces out there. Sometimes when you play week to week it does get pretty lonely out there. When you come to an event and you see people that you recognize and you know and they’re there to support you and bring up and lift you up."
Lee birdied the par-4 sixth and par-3 seventh on the front nine, then moved up the leaderboard with birdies on the par-3 12th, par-5 15th and par-4 16th. She saved par on the final two holes, making a 6-footer on the par-4 17th and blasting out of the front bunker for a tap-in on the par-3 18th.
“I wouldn’t say there is any sort of secret weapon or secret that you need to know to play this course,” Lee said. “I would say it’s a little bit of everything. You are challenged with your tee shots, with your approach shots, even around the greens. As it gets in the afternoon it does tend to get a little more bumpy. You just need to stay patient out there.”
The 27-year-old American is trying to win for the first time on the LPGA Tour.
“There was a point in time where I almost wanted to quit,” Lee said. “Golf was just so frustrating for me. I felt lost. I didn’t know what I was doing right. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. I just felt like golf just to me felt like a big blah. To really see my hard work pay off — because most of it for me was just from a mental perspective, mental side of it.”
Fellow afternoon starter Emma Talley and morning players Nasa Hataoka and Emily Kristine Pedersen were a stroke back.
Talley had the lead at 5 under before dropping back with a bogey on the par-4 eighth, her 17th hole of the day. The 28-year-old from Kentucky is winless on the tour. She won the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur and took the 2015 NCAA individual title at Alabama.
“I’m hitting the ball really well right now, and that goes a long way, especially when it’s windy,” Talley said.
Hataoka closed with a birdie on 18. The 23-year-old Japanese player had seven birdies and three bogeys. She has five LPGA Tour victories, winning twice last season.
“Wilshire is not an easy course,” Hataoka said. “Four under is a pretty good start for me."
Pedersen had five birdies and a bogey. The 23-year-old from Denmark is winless on the tour.
“I think you need a bit of confidence going into this course,” Pedersen said. “There are a few tight drives, a bit quirky shots into the greens where you really have to be on the right angle and just commit to the shots.”
Sei Young Kim and So Yeon Ryu were at 68 with Jennifer Song, Haylee Harford, Janie Jackson and Dewi Weber. They all played in the morning.
“A little windy on the back nine, so couple holes we took a long iron, just trying to make the par,” Kim said. “It’s not easy. You have to pick right number and then it’s going to be release a lot.”
Top-ranked Jin Young Ko had a 71 in the morning. Defending champion Brooke Henderson, playing alongside Ko, opened with a 76. She had a triple bogey on the par-3 fourth.
Patty Tavatanakit had a double bogey on No. 16 in a 73 in the afternoon.
Former Southern California player Allisen Corpuz and Amy Olson aced the 134-yard 18th. Corpuz shot a 72, and Olson had a 75.