Five things: Nochta holds lead in Futures opener

Tiffany Joh

Tiffany Joh

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. – Blink, and you might miss Laura Nochta. The Futures Tour rookie, a recent Indiana graduate, moves at a fast clip when on the course, disproving any arguments that fast players can’t be good players. Nochta, who followed an opening-round 67 with a 3-under 69 Saturday at Lake Region Yacht and Country Club, holds the lead at the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic, the opening event on the Futures Tour schedule.

“I’m pretty decisive over my shots, and I don’t need to wait over it. I enjoy playing fast,” Nochta said from the range after Saturday’s play. After continually getting herself in trouble off the tee, Nochta took her normally reliable driver to the practice range for a quick fix.

Despite a few nerves, Nochta picked up Saturday right where she left off late Friday night. Starting on the back nine, she birdied No. 13 before giving one back with a bogey on the following hole. She birdied Nos. 15 and 18 to close her first nine, and logged two other birdies to get to 8 under for the tournament, one shot ahead of Tzu-Chi Lin and Jackie Barenborg.

“I got relaxed on the second nine and started to scramble a little bit more,” Nochta said. “Maybe the nerves are a good thing. I’m sure I’ll be nervous again tomorrow.”

Nochta averages just 230 yards off the tee, leaving her consistently 15-20 yards behind her playing partners. She makes up for it with her iron play, generally the strongest part of her game. Nochta missed seven greens Saturday, prompting her to set a goal of hitting every green in Sunday’s final round.

“I’m usually comfortable with my scoring irons and if I have a shorter iron in my hand I’m usually trying to make birdie,” she said. “I’ll just keep that in mind tomorrow.”

• • •

Her kind of place: The last time the Futures Tour was in Winter Haven, for Q-School in November, Barenborg emerged with low-pro honors, finishing runner-up to Wake Forest’s Natalie Sheary. Barenborg, a graduate of Florida Southern in nearby Lakeland, has placed herself at the top of the leaderboard again, building off the confidence that came from such a dominating Q-School performance.

Since that week, Barenborg, of Vero Beach, Fla., was forced to take a month away from the game with an injured wrist tendon. After logging six birdies – including three consecutive, at Nos. 10, 11 and 12 – on her way to a 4-under 68 in Round 2, Barenborg said the biggest difference from November is mental. Specifically, state of mind. Last time around, Barenborg had a firm eye on the cutline. This week, she couldn’t even tell you where it’s going to fall.

“Last year I would have known what the cutline was because that’s what I was concerned about,” she said. “I want that same feeling every single week.”

• • •

Status whoas: Tiffany Joh knows it could be a long season of bouncing back and forth between the LPGA and Futures tours. After finishing T-87 at the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup last week, Joh tried her hand at Monday qualifying for the Kia Classic before flying east to play in Winter Haven. Joh finished T-22 at LPGA Q-School in December, barely missing out on a tour card (awarded to the top 15 players and ties).

Joh plans to play every Futures Tour event on the schedule, unless she were to get a spot in an LPGA event. A few veterans who once were in her shoes told her to expect to make about five LPGA starts this year. Some players have suggested focusing on one tour or the other, but that’s something Joh can’t imagine.

“I’m in that space where I can’t bring myself to give one or the other up,” she said, laughing.

Early in the season though it may be, Joh is showing no signs of fatigue. She remains in contention heading into the final round after shooting 69-70 to open the tournament.

“I was hitting it all right; I just couldn’t really get anything started with the putter,” Joh said.

• • •

Day 2 movers: One of the highest leaderboard jumps of the day belonged to Kathleen Ekey, who shot 8-under 64 for a personal best. Ekey birdied Nos. 2, 3 and 4 to start the day, and got hot again after the turn with birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. She holed out for eagle at the par-4 16th with a 52-degree wedge from 103 yards, then followed with a final birdie at 17.

Ekey went from T-102 to a share of seventh with the round.

Laura Bavaird, who also is T-7 after starting Saturday T-44, made a similar jump after putting up a 5-under 67 that began with a back-nine 31. Bavaird is benefiting greatly from a new, and very distinguished, putting coach: Vicki Goetze-Ackerman.

Bavaird connected with Ackerman, whose amateur career included two U.S. Women’s Amateur titles, two Curtis Cup appearances and an NCAA Championship title, by chance after meeting a mutual acquaintance at her home course, Eastlake Woodlands Country Club in Oldsmar, Fla.

“She changed my stroke a little bit. We found out some things about my stroke that I didn’t realize,” Bavaird said. “Just a couple little changes; nothing drastic. But it was enough to get me thinking differently and to think that I can actually make these now instead of just trying to get it close.”

• • •

And in the other direction: Jennifer Johnson entered the second round T-4 after opening with 69, but slid to T-34 with a second-round 74. The 19-year-old managed only three birdies, mixed with two bogeys and a double bogey at No. 17.

Cathryn Bristow, who held a share of second at the beginning of the day, put up a 5-over 77 to fade to T-48 at 1-over 145.

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