NAPLES, Fla. –– Michelle Wie remembers her first tee shot as a pro back in 2005. She was shaking over the ball, and when her 3-wood found the fairway at Bighorn Golf Club, Wie threw her hands in the air to celebrate.
“I definitely flashed back to when I hit,” said Wie, who watched 16-year-old Lydia Ko begin her professional career on Nov. 21 at the CME Titleholders Championship. “She played great today. She looked calm. A lot calmer than I looked.”
Ko, a two-time winner on the LPGA, was surprised by how calm she felt on the first tee at Tiburon Golf Club, though she admitted to being nervous. She found the fairway and marched on to her first par. The Kiwi played alongside with Wie and Jessica Korda, who also happened to kick off her career next to Wie.
“It didn’t feel too odd or special or slow or whatever today,” said Ko. “That actually surprised me. . . . And actually one of the good things was I was wasn’t thinking about any money or related stuff. I just tried to play my game.”
Ko found trouble on the third hole, clipping a branch on her backswing and making double from the straw. She followed that with a three-putt bogey on No. 7 and was suddenly 3 over.
“I have a tendency to kind of jam the putt in with the short ones,” Ko said. “I think I tried to do that, but on a slight downhill slope was just too much.”
A birdie on the eighth, however, kickstarted a stretch that looked more Ko-like. She played the last 11 holes in 4 under to shoot 1-under 71 in her pro debut.
“She’s a great player,” said Hall of Famer Juli Inkster, playing in the group behind her. “She has kicked our butts.”
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Aggressive kind of Gal: Given the enormous disparity between first- and second-place money this week, Sandra Gal figured she might as well play aggressively. So far, it has worked out quite nicely for the German, who carded an 8-under 64 to tie the course record and take the lead.
“All you really want to do is win here,” said Gal, referring to the $700,000 first-place check. Second place earns $138,983.
Gal started out on the back nine and birdied her first six holes to take an early lead.
“I decided today, once you accept that you might hit it in the water, hit it in the bushes, but just got for it,” said Gal, “usually it turns out better.”
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Crown jewels: The LPGA announced its field of eight countries for the 2014 International Crown after the first round in Naples: Australia, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Thailand and the United States. The inaugural event will take place July 24-27 at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Md. Countries qualified based on the Rolex Rankings. The top four ranked players from each country comprised a team score.
While the teams have been decided, players have until the 2014 Kraft Nabisco to make their respective four-player teams. South Korea currently has four players ranked inside the top 10. There will be no team captain, meaning players will determine the lineup and who might participate in a playoff.
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Anniversary date: Brooke Pancake and Brittany Lang will each be tying the knot on Jan. 11 in Tennessee and Texas, respectively. Both will continue to use their maiden names while playing on the LPGA.
Derek Rende, a mini-tour player who is caddying for his bride-to-be this week, proposed to Pancake on May 11. The most common thing she’s been asked: “Are you keeping your name?” It was an easy decision.
“It’s too much fun with my last name out here on tour,” said Pancake, a former Alabama standout.
Lang found it difficult to get many wedding details ironed out while playing the Asian swing and will be glad to spend the holidays in Texas.
At least one detail, however, came together earlier in the year with no trouble. When play was canceled in Rochester, Lang and bridesmaid Paula Creamer went shopping at David’s Bridal and Lang settled on the first dress she tried on. But she didn’t buy it until she got to Texas so that she could share the experience with her mother, Pam.
Lang will have four LPGA players standing beside her on her big day. In addition to Creamer, she’ll have Texans Angela Stanford and Katie Futcher as well as Brittany Lincicome.
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Short shots: Lexi Thompson hit 14 fairways and 16 greens in the first round to shoot 6-under 66 and ride the confidence from her victory in Mexico. Thompson has older brother Curtis on the bag this week. Curtis said he’s just giving her numbers and helping on the greens.
“It seems like she’s a lot more positive,” said Curtis, who also caddied for Lexi at the CVS Charity Classic. “It sounds like she talks to herself a lot better. A lot more relaxed over the ball. I think that might be the difference in ball-striking and putting recently.” . . . Yani Tseng withdrew from the CME Group Titleholders after undergoing hernia surgery on Oct. 30. Her manager, Naya Hsu, said she’s recovering in San Diego and began practicing two days ago. . . . Stacy Lewis birdied three of her last four holes to shoot 71 and stay one in front of Suzann Pettersen, who played in the same group. Lewis has a 0.104 lead over Pettersen in the race for the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. An American hasn’t won that award since Beth Daniel in 1994. “Especially playing with Suzann,” said Lewis, “it’s hard not to think about it.”