Song feeling comfortable at LPGA Q-School

Christine Song during Round 2 of LPGA Q-School.

Christine Song during Round 2 of LPGA Q-School.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Autograph requests at LPGA Q-School generally are limited. But leader Christine Song answered two upon completing a second-round 70 Thursday at LPGA International.

At 8-under 136 through two days of play, and with a two-shot lead over UCLA senior Stephanie Kono, Song is a player you just might want to sign your hat.

She is only 20 years old, but at the end of her third year as a professional – her second with LPGA status. Originally from Fullerton, Calif., Song now lives just down the road in Longwood, Fla. She’s been playing LPGA International for the past month to prepare for her first trip to Qualifying School. Still, little could prepare her for Thursday’s blustery conditions.

“It’s been windy a few times, but I haven’t actually played in a tournament when it’s been this windy,” Song said after a round during which 30-mph gusts repeatedly prevented her from reaching greens in regulation.

Song is a diminutive player, but one whose brain is always turning during a round. After coming up 50 yards short of the green at the par-4 17th – thanks to a strong headwind – Song circled to the side of the green and stared down a hilly backstop behind the hole for several seconds before dropping her ball to 8 feet and making her par.

At No. 18, Song punched out from trees left to a perfect 88 yards, then dropped a 50-degree wedge to kick-in range to finish with another par. Her three birdies on the day came from made 6-footers.

Song came to Q-School with the goal of winning, but her game came together at LPGA International more completely than even she was imagining. She had been struggling with her putting but gained confidence from her last two starts in LET and China LPGA co-sanctioned events, the Sanya Ladies Open and the Suzhou Taihu Ladies Open. She shot under par for five of six rounds.

Song was inside the top 125 on the LPGA tour money list until the Mizuno Classic, when Shiho Oyama leapfrogged her. It made Qualifying School mandatory, but Song already had signed up to play anyway.

“I’m sort of glad I actually played in it,” Song said. “Test myself a little bit under the pressure.”

Even with an early lead, Song isn’t ready to put it on auto-pilot.

“I feel a little bit comfortable but I don’t want to feel very comfortable because anything can happen in three rounds, especially on this course,” she said.

• • •

Waiting for this: Mitsuki Katahira is another player familiar with LPGA International. A former player at Daytona State College, Katahira has practiced here every day for the past two years.

Still, Katahira loaded her clubs on her caddie Chris Bui’s back Tuesday to log one last practice round with all the other LPGA hopefuls. As if she would have had it any other way. Katahira won nine of 11 tournaments last season and has two career NJCAA National Championship titles to her name.

“I’ve never seen a player work that hard ever,” head coach Laura Brown said during Katahira’s sophomore season. “Basically if the sun is up and she’s not in class, she’s at the golf course.”

Katahira has been waiting for the opportunity to play Q-School on her home turf. It was something she discussed with Brown before ever committing to Daytona State.

“It’s very nice, I always play here,” she said. “I play every day so I think I have a real advantage.”

It showed in Round 1 as Katahira shot 2-under 70 on the Champions Course (her least favorite of the two layouts) to land a tie for fifth. She fell to a second-round 76 on the Legends Course, but remains in a tie for 25th.

• • •

On her own: The site of the unflappable K.S. Kang on his daughter Danielle’s bag during summer amateur golf is one of the more successful examples of father-daughter golf. The two cruised to two U.S. Women’s Amateur victories together, but at Q-School, K.S. is noticeably absent.

That was Danielle’s decision, not her dad’s, and it took her a few seconds to realize that, yes, this is the first major tournament of her career that she has played without K.S. nearby. Instead, he is in Korea on business.

“He really wanted to come but I said it’s Qualifying School, stay home,” Danielle explained.

Instead, Danielle is in good hands with new caddie Terry McNamara, best known for his partnership with Annika Sorenstam. McNamara also recently worked with Jessica Korda, whom Danielle defeated in the final match of the 2010 U.S. Women’s Amateur, until the U.S. Women’s Open.

“He’s been helping out a lot,” Kang said of McNamara. “Just trying to stay in here. We have three more days to go.”

Kang opened with even-par 72 on the Champions Course but fell to a 78 Thursday on the Legends Course. This is her first look at LPGA International.

“The Bermudagrass is tricky,” she said. “Even the greens, I missed a lot of short putts. That’s not something I usually do.”

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