MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – Karen Paolozzi realized Sunday was her chance to make a good first impression at the 47th PGA Professional National Championship.
“I came wanting to make the cut,” Paolozzi said after she opened with a 3-over-par 75 at the Resort Club at Grande Dunes, “and that’s still my goal. But I know I’ve got a lot of work to do. We were out of the wind this morning; we were out of the elements. This was the better chance to score, but now I’ve got the Dunes Club tomorrow and the Dunes Club is a very challenging course. It’s just a little disappointing.”
Paolozzi, 31 and an assistant professional at Druid Hills Golf Club in Atlanta, is the third woman to compete in the PGA Professional National Championship. Connecticut’s Suzy Whaley missed the cut in 2002 and finished in a tie for 64th three years later; Maryland’s Patty Post missed the cut in 2007 at Sunriver (Ore.) Resort.
Trying to become the first woman to finish in the top 20, thereby qualifying for the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., in August, Paolozzi stumbled out of the gate with a three-putt bogey at the par-4 10th.“I left myself with the toughest putt you could possibly have,” said Paolozzi, who earned her spot in the PGA PNC with a T-7 finish at last year’s Northern Ohio PGA Section Championship; she moved to Atlanta in February.
Her 75 left her in the middle of the pack in the 312-player field, but still, it was a better 18 holes than the 77s posted at Grande Dunes by former PGA Tour players Jim McGovern and Sam Randolph, or the first-round 78 from 2008 champion Scott Herbert.
She also benefits from a new cut procedure implemented by the PGA of America. This year, for the first time at the Professional National Championship, the field will be cut to the low 90 after two rounds and then the low 70 after 54 holes.
Paolozzi, a former All-American at Indiana University, finished her round with a less-than-stellar 34 putts, hitting 10 of 14 fairways and 13 greens but getting up and down for par on just one of five chances.
“I hit the ball pretty well,” she said. “I struggled on the greens; had some bad bogeys.”
Playing a golf course measuring 1,089 yards shorter than the men’s yardage of 7,148, Paolozzi did have back-to-back birdies at Nos. 16 and 17, her seventh and eighth holes of the day. She made a 5-foot birdie putt following an 8-iron into the 16th green, then got back to even par by hitting a pitching wedge to 10 feet at the par-5, 451-yard 17th and making the putt.
Paolozzi is accustomed to dealing with higher levels of attention. As an apprentice in 2010, she finished tied for 10th at the PGA Assistant Championship, the best showing by a female professional in any PGA of America-conducted national championship.
“My nerves were fine,” Paolozzi said, “which surprised me a little. It was just a little more frustrating than I had hoped for.”