Lopez strikes early

HARRIS – Lee Lopez might be a rookie on the LPGA Symetra Tour, but the 2013 UCLA graduate has looked like anything but a newbie on the Tour, this year.

Fresh off a fifth-place finish at the Decatur-Forsyth Classic and a second-place finish at the Four Winds Invitational, last weekend, Lopez continued her recent run of strong play by taking the early lead at the Island Resort Championship, with a 4-under opening round score of 68, at Sweetgrass Golf Club, on Friday.

“I was just taking it a hole at a time,” Lopez said. “I didn’t really know what I was shooting until I signed my scorecard.

“I just hit fairways, hit greens, and gave myself opportunities. My short game was good today, so I made some up-and-downs and I had two chip-ins, which was fun.”

Lopez was consistently in the short grass off the tee box, hitting 12-of-14 fairways on the afternoon. She also managed to be efficient with her putter, recording just 26 putts on the day.

But the highlights of Lopez’s round came on the par-3 seventh and the par-4 16th, where she managed to chip-in for birdie on both holes.

“I landed the ball exactly where I was looking,” she said. “It was one of those chips where I knew it was going to be good even if it missed.”

Lopez entered this weekend at No. 7 on the Volvik Race for the Card money list, and No. 1 on the Gaelle Truet Rookie of the Year list. With it being her first year tour, Friday marked Lopez’s first trip to Sweetgrass, making her 68 that much more impressive.

“I love it. I think it’s a great golf course,” she said. “Every single hole has a lot of character to it. You really need to know where to place your ball off the tee, and the greens are tough because you need to be in the right sections and give yourself some opportunities because they’re firm, they’re rolling really well and they’re drying out. It’s a tough golf course.”

Despite her strong round, Lopez won’t be able to afford any slip-ups this weekend. Shannon Fish, Katie Kempter, Sadena Parks, and Molly Aronsson, all sit in second-place, just one stroke back after each recorded a 3-under 69. Cindy Feng, who finished 13th in last weekend’s U.S. Open, sits in a three-way tie for second place at 2-under.

However, the shot of the day didn’t come from any of the names at the top of the scoreboard, but instead, from Noriko Inoue.

While some golfers found the bottom of the pond on the par-3 15th island green hole, Inoue found the bottom of the hole, recording the first ace of her career.

“It was a pretty good shot, but I didn’t think it was going in,” Inoue said. “I just couldn’t believe it at the moment, but everyone was cheering, so I was really happy.”

Inoue was awarded $500 for her ace, and eventually finished the first round with a 6-over 78.

The local favorite, Marquette amateur Avery Rochester, was consistent off the tee-hitting 12-of-14 fairways-but couldn’t find the same consistency or rhythm on the putting greens, resulting in 35 putts and a score of 12-over 84, in her first round in a professional event.

“I only missed two fairways, so I was driving the ball good but my putting was not very good,” Rochester said. “I think I had three three-putts and a four-putt; it wasn’t too great.

“I just wasn’t trusting my line today and I think that’s what it was. I just had no trust in my putting today.”

In spite of her difficult day, Rochester still remains optimistic going into tomorrow’s second round. She’ll look to refocus and hope that today’s experience will help her moving forward, when she will start her second round at 12:10 p.m., on Saturday.

“I have a good game plan for every hole,” she said. “It’s just now whether or not I execute. I just look at it as another day to give myself an opportunity to work hard on my game and get a little better every day.”

The second round of the tournament will begin at 7:30 a.m., on Saturday. Lopez is set to go off at 9:20 a.m, along with Fish and Kempte, who will also will start their second rounds at 9:20 a.m. Meanwhile, Aronsson and Parks will start at 12:10 p.m.