Classy Koreans impress at Ladies Masters

In some of the best conditions possible for good scoring, day one of the Gold Coast RACV Australian Ladies Masters saw more than 60 players break par on the generous Royal Pines layout.

Koreans are dominating the early tournament leaderboard with three of the first four from that country.

It might have taken until very late in the day before the first round leader was determined but as the day's proceedings wrapped up, it was South Korean Bo Mee Lee who took a one shot lead over fellow Koreans So Yeon Ryu and Hee Kyung Seo and The Netherlands' Christel Boeljon.

Lee was amongst the last few groups to finish but playing in the afternoon on day one was not the hindrance such a tee time can often be. Conditions remained ideal for the whole of the day and even though a lift clean and place rule was in place on the fairways, the layout's recovery from the torrential rain on the Gold Coast in the past two weeks had to be seen to be believed.

Lee has been one of the more dominant players on the Japan and Korean LPGA Tours in her career to date but did also finish runner-up to Karrie Webb in this event in 2010. Her credentials therefore are good and so too was her play today as she produced a bogey free afternoon round of 65 to take the opening round lead.

Lee has not won anywhere in 16 months but she has won on many occasions in Korea and against this field she is very much a factor as the tournament enters round two.

Ryu, the 2011 US Women's Open Champion, took the lead early on the opening day, taking advantage of her early morning tee time to post an opening round of 66 and lead by one over Australian Nikki Campbell as the morning field completed their rounds.

"The course has improved a lot said Ryu after her round. "I can't believe it because yesterday the course was very wet but today it was a lot better. The first few holes I was very nervous as it is my first tournament of the year. But on the 12th hole (her 3rd of the round), I made a nice birdie putt so I could finally relax.

"A lot of people have high expectations of me now and I am a little worried about it so that was also why I was nervous."

Ryu is coached by Brisbane based Ian Triggs who works with many of Australia's best and now many international players also including several Koreans. Ryu put the good start down to some hard work she did yesterday with Triggs. "Sometimes I am thinking too much about technique but yesterday I just practiced working on visualisation."

Ryu, who has finished runner-up and 5th in two of her four previous visits to Royal Pines was very impressive in not dropping a shot and giving the appearance she was totally at ease despite the fact that this is her first tournament of the year and that she was working with a new caddie this week.

Tom Watson is an Australian with a golfing name who has had success caddying in Japan over the years on both the men's and women's tours, some of that success coming while on the bag of Australian Brendan Jones who has regularly been the leading foreigner playing the Japan Golf Tour.

"Tom was a really great advisor to me," said Ryu. He also really knows the Asian culture because he lives in Japan so he is a big help."

Watson and Ryu are trying each other out for the next few weeks but if today is anything to go by then Watson might just be onto something special and perhaps vice-versa.

Seo finished runner-up to Ryu after a playoff at the US Women's Open and in an ironic twist she just happened to have the caddie who worked for Ryu at the US Open on her own bag this week.

Her bagman, Dean Herden, has a great strike rate as a caddie and has befriended and advised many of the Korean and Japanese players. He is highly regarded and relied on by many of that group. Herden had one or two very good seasons with Jiyai Shin when she became the world number one golfer and it appears he is applying his magic touch to Park this week.

24 year old Boeljon has developed into one of the most consistent player on the Ladies European Tour but has had little success at Royal Pines in the past. Her great start could go a long way to changing that around. Boeljen won the Turkish Open last year and recorded two other runner-up finishes on the Ladies European Tour in 2011.

The leading Australians after the opening round are Canberra's Nikki Campbell and South Australian Stephanie Na. Both are former Australian title holders, Na the 2008 Australian Strokeplay Champion and Campbell the Australian Amateur Champion in 2002.

22 year old Na recently earned her Ladies European Tour card and in her first event with it she has started well.

Campbell, runner-up in this event last year, is a nine year veteran of the Japan Golf Tour where she has won twice and regularly finished amongst the top thirty on the money list there. 2011 was as kind to her however as she began to lose a little bit of desire.

"I had a hard year last year so I just needed a break from golf, and I felt that the second half of last year, I was just going through the motions and not there to compete. So I took a really long time off leading into Xmas and New Year, and then I just started practicing about two weeks before the Canberra event.

"I think because it is my ninth year playing in Japan, and I've had pretty good success up there, but last year I struggled a bit, and I just felt really lonely. I don't know what it was down too. I mean obviously if you don't play golf very well, it's a bit harder to enjoy it, but yeah, I just really struggled.

"Yeah, but the thing is, to keep your card," she responded when asked why she had not decided to just come home. "They have so many events so you feel like you have to keep playing, which is, I step back and look at it, a bit backwards. But when you're doing it you feel like everyone else is playing every week, so you should keep churning away. But you're actually better, if you take some time out and go back fresh and play well.

This year she is planning on having her boyfriend Damon Wellsford with her in Japan to caddy and accompany her hoping that will be a cure for her loneliness.

That day one even began on time at Royal Pines was something almost unimaginable three days ago but once play got underway it was almost a case of asking what rain?

The tournament is missing some of its normal stars but if the opening day is anything to go by then there is every reason to believe the quality of golf being produced by players perhaps not all that familiar by name, but certainly by skill, will more than make up for their absence.

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Bruce Young
About The Author : Bruce Young

A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of and background in the game of golf comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.

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