RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. August 25, 2016 – August Kim (Saint Augustine, Florida) took lessons at LPGA International, home of Final Stage of LPGA Qualifying Tournament, when she was a teenager and now she is hoping to advance that far and one day play on the LPGA Tour. She took a step in the right direction on Thursday at Stage I of LPGA Qualifying Tournament with a 6-under, 66 on the Arnold Palmer Course at Mission Hills to share the first-round lead with Kristina Merkle, who also posted a 66 on the Arnold Palmer Course.
Kim, who won the Big Ten Championship this year at Purdue, made six birdies on the day, but didn’t really heat up until the back nine.
“I hit the ball really well, it was a steady day,” said 21-year-old Kim, who is one of 93 amateurs in the field. “It was the kind of first day that you want at a tournament like this.”
The rising senior at Purdue holed out for eagle on the 13th hole from 140 years with a 9-iron.
“That really gave me a jolt of energy,” said Kim. “After that, I made two birdies and then also closed with a birdie.”
Kim says that she plans to play all three stages of LPGA Qualifying Tournament with the hope of earning some status to pursue her professional career once she graduates in May of 2017.
“My intention is to finish my eligibility and I’m adament about that,” said Kim. “Purdue has given so much to me and I want to give everything I have back to the school. That is the plan right now and the biggest goal at Q-School is to get some status.”
Kim is a biochemistry major at Purdue and although she doesn’t plan on going to medical school, her career choice if golf wasn’t in the equation would be to practice medicine.
Kim learned the game of golf from her father, Christopher, who is on the bag this week in Rancho Mirage.
“He was a big golfer and he taught me the game so it is great to have him caddy for me this week,” said Kim. “I have a comfort level with him on the bag and I hope to keep things rolling during the weekend.”
Kim took lessons at LPGA International with Craig Shankland from the time she was 13 through 16.
In mid-July Kim took medalist honors at Pinehurst No. 2 in the stroke play portion of the North & South Women’s Amateur.
KRISTINA MERKLE REBOUNDS AFTER TOUGH YEAR ON SYMETRA TOUR: Kristina Merkle (Honolulu, Hawaii) has struggled in her first full season on the Symetra Tour. She has made eight starts and has missed the cut in each. Merkle erased some of the demons a tough year brings by firing a 66 in round one of LPGA Qualifying Tournament.
“It went really well today,” said Merkle, who played the Palmer Course. “I haven’t had a round like this in a long time so it is nice to get this under my belt.”
Merkle’s swing has undergone some changes over the last month under the watch of her dad, Lou, who is her longtime coach and a new instructer Mike Doctor out of New York.
“The changes are still new, but everything is kind of clicking right now,” said Merkle. “I’m definitely starting to get my confidence back.”
Merkle graduated from Tulsa in May of 2014 and played in a pair of Symetra Tour events in 2015. It is her dad’s message that really has her believing,
“He always tells me that there are girls that go three or four years without winning tournaments and then all of a sudden, something clicks,” said Merkle. “Golf is a funny sport. It throws you lots of curve balls and sometimes you swing and miss. My dad has really helped me continue to believe.”
Merkle was the Conference USA Golfer of the Year in 2012.
She hopes to one day play on the LPGA and then open a school in Hawaii to help young kids with
academics and athletics.
“Ever since 8th grade, my parents and I have talked about a foundation,” said Merkle. “I never looked at
academics as a priority until college and I want to have a school where kids can go for help in both academics and athletics. The game of golf has allowed me to travel the world and I really want to give back one day.”
MARIAH STACKHOUSE GOES LOW ON DAY ONE: Mariah Stackhouse (Riverdale, Georgia) started with a bang in round one with a 5-under, 67 on the new Gary Player Course. She stands in a tie for third.
“Everything was working,” said Stackhouse, who helped Stanford win the 2015 team NCAA national title. “I hit fairways and I hit my irons well. Even when I didn’t hit fairways, I had a 100 percent up-and-down rate.”
The big moment in Stackhouse’s round came early when she chipped in for eagle on the par-5 third from 35 yards out.
Stackhouse said the biggest thing about her first Qualifying Touranment has been figuring out the right
combination of getting in her work and staying away from the heat.
“I got to California on Sunday night and then got 18 in on Monday, 36 holes on Tuesday and then
Wednesday I just practiced and got out of the heat,” said Stackhouse. “It’s just such a busy week and you really need to get your rest.”
Like every other player in the field, Stackhouse has her eyes on full status on the LPGA, but is not getting ahead of herself.
“It would be of course special to make my LPGA goal happen,” said Stackhouse. “I’m trying to just stay in each phase and not get too far ahead of myself. Q-School is all about just advancing.”
TEXAS WOMEN’S OPEN CHAMP VILAUBI STARTS STRONG: Savannah Vilaubi (Downey, Calif.) has had a strong first year as a professional on the mini tour circuit. In early July, she won the Texas Women’s Open, which
carries an exemption into the Volunteers of America North Texas Shootout next year on the LPGA. She also has three wins on the Cactus Tour this year.
Vilaubi had maybe the most impressive round of the day on Thursday with a 5-under, 67 on the Dinah Shore course, which is considered the toughest of the three.
“It was certainly nice to start with a 67 on what I consider to be the toughest course,” said Vilaubi, who graduated from UC-Riverside in May of 2015. “My big point of emphasis going in was my tee shots and I did well in that area. It seemed like every approach shot came from a good position. It helped to make some putts too.”
Vilaubi’s longest putt of the day came on her opening hole, a 22-foot birdie putt from above the pin. She went onto make four additional birdies in her bogey-free round.
Vilaubi played a variety of sports growing up including Little League Baseball, but eventually gravitated to golf.
“I did a lot of sports growing up and I had good hand-eye coordination,” said the 22-year-old Vilaubi. “Whatever I was doing, even at one point being an artist, I always wanted to be a professional.”
It didn’t come easy for Vilaubi last year at her first LPGA Qualifying Tournament in 2015 when she failed to get past Stage I and finished T146 with four rounds of 75 or higher.
“I just didn’t feel ready last year,” said Vilaubi. “It is great to have four professional wins under my belt into my second Q-School and I just feel so much more prepared.”
Vilaubi was the first women at UC Riverside to earn a bid into the NCAA regionals in 2015. She was a three-time All-Big West selection including a first-team member in 2014-15.
• The shot of the day belonged to Liting Weng, who made a hole-in-one on the par-3 fourth hole on the Palmer Course from 150 yards. She shot a 5-over, 77.
• Olympian Maha Haddioui (Morocco) started strong with a 4-under, 68 on the Arnold Palmer Course and is T10.
• The youngest player in the field, 17-year-old Hataoka Nasa (Japan), who is ranked No. 28 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, carded a 2-under, 70 on the Arnold Palmer Course. The oldest in the field, 53-year-old Janelle Wilson posted an 11-over, 83.
• There are 14 amateurs that are T20 or better after day one.
• Paige Spiranac posted a 1-over, 73 on the Arnold Palmer Course.
• First-Team All-American, Lauren Kim of Stanford, carded a 1-under, 71 on the Arnold Palmer Course.
• Indian Olympian Aditi Ashok turned in an even-par 72 on the Gary Player Course.