Island Resort Championship: Multiple contenders surface on Day 1

HARRIS – The opening round of Friday’s third annual Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass looked a lot like the opening portion of the Symetra Tour season.

A large group of contenders, many of them virtually unknown, surfaced on the leader board at Sweetgrass Golf Club under overcast, breezy conditions. The wind buffeted the players later in the day, directly affecting shots on four incoming holes on each nine. The greens and fairways were receptive after nearly an inch of rain Thursday.

The top five finished before 1 p.m.

Jenni Jenq of Saratoga, Calif., playing in the fifth group of the morning round, posted a 5-under-par 67, a stroke off the course and tourney record.

A stroke back are Jacey Chun of Seoul, South Korea, Lacey Agnew of Jonesboro, Ark. and Hannah Yun of San Diego. Brittany Altomare of Shrewsbury, Mass. had 69. Six more players were at 70, another 17 shot 71 and a dozen matched par at 72.

No one from that group has ever won a Symetra Tour title, coming in a season where six different players have won the six previous events.

The leader underlines the volatility of those top 40 players. Jenq, 27, is a rookie who only gained full Symetra status a month into this season. The Wellesly College graduate played amateur golf in California after graduating in 2008 and won six events, including the state amateur. She also had two wins on the state’s Grasshopper Tour before moving to the Symetra ranks, tying for 27th in her best outing.

“I didn’t hit that well today but I hit a ton of par putts from about 15 feet,” said Jenq, who had six birdies. “Making those putts really got it going for me.”

Agnew and Yun played briefly on the LPGA Tour last year, with Yun tying for fifth at the Decatur-Forsyth Classic two weeks ago.

Nicole Vandermade of Brantford, Ont., one of the sextet at 70, flirted with the leaderboard all day and was tied with Jenq several times before faltering down the stretch. She birdied four of the first five holes and said “I just tried to stay calm, keep my focus and stick with my game plan. The first day I tried to get a good start and get set up for the rest of the tournament.”

Vandermade, among several Symetra players who were treated to a yacht ride in Little Bay de Noc Tuesday night, is a first-time entrant here. “I am really excited to play this course. It fits my game,” she said, adding she has been impressed with the fans already. “Everyone is so friendly. This might be the most people I’ve seen anywhere.”

Elisa Serramia of Barcelona, Spain, who also shot 70, had the day’s lone eagle, dunking a 77-yard approach on the 18th hole. She won $100 for that shot and Island Resort and Casino matched that with a contribution to her favorite charity, Wounded Warriors.

Three cast members of Big Break Mexico played Friday, with Stefanie Kenoyer and Taylor Collins at 71 and Emily Talley had 73. Kenoyer said 63 would have been in reach had she hit some putts that were in her range.

Talley, who has been eliminated from the weekly Golf Channel program but will return for Monday’s episode that features Lorena Ochoa, said “it was a really cool experience. It was really fun, but stressful as heck. It opened my eyes about having a routine, which is really important. I did not have a routine for handling my nerves (on the show).”

Friday she three-putted the first hole for bogey-5, then chipped in for birdie-3 on the next hole.

Stephanie Kim, who won the first Island Resort event in 2011, is playing just her second tournament of the season after missing much of the time since that victory with an ankle injury. The rust showed as she shot 83, tying Carley Saint-Onge of Marquette and Kristin Walla for the worst round.

Kim had a staggering 6-over-par 11 on the ninth hole, rinsing her tee shot and then hitting her approach shot out of bounds. “That was my shining moment this year,” Kim said of that explosion.

“I air-mailed the green,” she said, hitting a 160-yard approach that was actually just 140 yards. “You’ve got to take it with humor, I hit a brain fart. It was a mediocre round punctuated by a really, really bad hole. I just wasn’t ready (for tournament golf).”

Saint-Onge, a Michigan State golfer, had two blow-up triple-bogey holes that likely will force her to miss the cut for the third straight year. She dunked her tee shot on the island green (No. 15) and then three-putted, and splashed a shot on No. 18 and had a snowman.

On 15 she said the wind caught her shot and pushed it left into the water, but said her approach shots were “my big issue. I missed a lot of greens. I’m not disappointed. I was playing good until those two holes, but that is the way golf is.”

Kris Yoo, a University of Wisconsin golfer and the other amateur exemption, has a shot at making the cut after opening with 75 in her first professional tournament. “I did leave some shots out there but I was happy with my score,” she said. “I made some really good up and downs. I can’t be mad about it.”

She said nerves were not a problem because “it is a normal golf tournament.” She also enjoyed her playing partners (Natalie Sheary and Britney Hamilton), noting “I learned a lot from them.”

She plans to take an aggressive approach today in her bid to make the cut. “I will be myself and play my game,” she said.

Molly Aronsson, like Saint-Onge, has somewhat of a home course advantage. Her grandfather, Orville Aronsson, was born in Escanaba and is the son of Swedish immigrants Per August and Freda Aronsson. She and her dad, David, were born in Detroit.

In addition, Al Belyea, a first cousin of her mother Linda, was one of the designers of Sweetgrass Golf Course while working for architect Paul Albanese. “He put a lot of heart and soul into Sweetgrass. He is very excited to have Molly playing here,” said Linda.

Molly Aronsson, who shot 76 in her third appearance at Sweetgrass, said a key point was having her group placed on the slow-play clock on the 15th island green tee. She had just birdied No. 14, then dunked her shot on 15.

“I didn’t commit to my club, then I rushed my shot,” she said.

Playing here is “awesome. I’ve looked at my family tree, but we changed our spelling (with a second S). I lot of people in town have asked if we’re related (to the Escanaba Aronsons).”

David said “I’m looking forward to seeing the town. I was here a lot in the 1950s but I can’t remember when I was last here. I’m looking forward to seeing Aronson Island and seeing cousins I haven’t seen in a long time.”

He said his sister, Ann Schmidt, is planning to visit during the Escanaba 150 birthday celebration next week.

Round two begins at 7:30 today, with the top 70 or so advancing to Sunday’s final round.