Germany’s Miriam Nagl quietly took the lead with a 6-under 67 in today’s opening round of the $125,000 Santorini Riviera Nayarit Classic presented by Pepsi.
The two-time LPGA Futures Tour winner played the front nine holes of El Tigre Golf & Country Club at even par with two birdies and two bogeys, but lit up the back nine with a bogey-free, six-birdie run for a one-shot advantage.
“The par-5s are so reachable, so if you can hit the ball far, you have birdie chances,” said the native of Berlin, who birdied four of El Tigre’s six par-5 holes. “I also talked to my coach about putting before I came here and he told me to be more serene and a little more calm with my putter. It worked today.”
A former LPGA Tour member, Nagl’s precision in today’s opening round rendered 16 greens and 12 of 13 fairways in regulation, along with a “serene” day on the greens with only 28 putts.
But while Nagl was cruising like a warmed-up engine around the 6,433-yard, par-73 tract today, a pair of Mexican players occupied the top of the leaderboard for most of the morning, moving into a share of second. Lili Alvarez of Durango, Mexico and Sophia Sheridan of Guadalajara, Mexico each finished at 5-under 68, tied at one shot off the lead.
Alvarez highlighted her round when she slammed in a 50-plus foot uphill, downhill, left-breaking crowd-pleaser for birdie on the 18th green that drew an outburst of cheers. Players two groups back heard the shouts for the Mexican and smiled when they saw the leaderboard on the last hole.
“Fuego!” said Alvarez, following a jump and a fist pump when her birdie putt dropped into the cup. “Today, I saw my family and my friends out there and it was pretty special. There’s still a lot of golf to play, but I’m happy, really happy about today.”
Shortly after Alvarez’s dramatic finish, Sheridan added her own 68 to join her compatriot in the spotlight. Sheridan hit 16 greens in regulation today and credited solid ball striking even when the wind picked up in the afternoon. She carded four birdies on her first nine holes (the back), and managed only one birdie on her blustery front nine.
“It’s anybody’s tournament to win,” said Sheridan, who, like Alvarez, is seeking her first Futures Tour victory. “I’m trying to avoid thinking that I’m at home in Mexico. I’m trying to just play like I did last week in Daytona Beach and how I’ll be playing in San Antonio.”
Tied for fourth at 4-under 69 is Valentine Derrey of Paris, France.
Tied for fifth at 3-under 70 are Sydnee Michaels of Temecula, California, Mallory Blackwelder of Versailles, Kentucky, Kathleen Ekey of Sharon Township, Ohio, and Canadian Sue Kim of Langley, British Columbia.
A total of 13 players carded rounds under par today with 36 players finishing at even-par 73 or better.
The second round will begin at 8:30 a.m. off the first and tenth tees. The leaders will go off at 1 p.m.
For scores and more information, visit lpgafuturestour.com.
Weather: Sunny with temperatures in the mid 80s with afternoon wind between 12-15 mph.
LPGA Futures Tour Members Have No Fears About Mexico Tournament
Members of the LPGA Futures Tour who made the trip to Mexico this week said the tournament stop south of the border was one they didn’t want to miss. Even last year’s winner, Cindy LaCrosse, who has moved on to the 2011 LPGA Tour as the Futures Tour’s 2010 Player of the Year, made a return trip to Nuevo Vallarta in Riviera Nayarit this week to defend her title.
“I’m happy to be here and I was looking forward to coming back here to play,” said LaCrosse of Tampa, Florida, who won the first of her three titles last year in Mexico.
But Mexico, heavily dependent on tourism to boost its national economy, has suffered with public perception within the last year as its government has clamped down on drug cartels. Deadly border clashes in some areas have had a negative affect on tourist travel by international visitors, with some electing not to travel to Mexico for fear of personal safety.
“I never thought twice about coming here,” said LPGA Futures Tour player Cathryn Bristow of Auckland, New Zealand. “My feeling was the tour would not bring us here if it weren’t safe. I travel all over the world and I know that sometimes, perceptions of places can be overblown.”
Canadian Danielle Mills is spending the week with her parents in a rented condominium in Nuevo Vallarta only a short distance from El Tigre Golf & Country Club, where the tournament is being staged. Like Bristow, Mills said skipping the tour’s event in Mexico “wasn’t even an issue.”
“It’s secure and we are in a really nice environment here,” added Mills, of Pointe-Claire, Quebec. “Everybody is so friendly. Even the Customs officer in the airport wished me good luck this week.”
American Briana Vega is returning to Mexico for her second year and said this week’s event was one of her favorite tournaments last year.
“They go all out to make us feel comfortable,” said the player from Andover, Massachusetts. “How we are treated here goes above and beyond what we’re used to. It’s a pretty amazing week and I’m happy to be back in Mexico.”
One rookie making their first trip to Mexico said she was happy to put their parents’ concerns to rest. Molly Aronsson of Shelburne, Vermont, said she “felt comfortable and safe” as soon as she arrived.
And second-year pro Rebecca Kim of Tigard, Oregon observed that this week’s event is on the border of Mexican tourist destinations Jalisco and Nayarit. Kim called the location of the tour’s tournament this week right in the “heart of resort land.”
Several of the Tour’s American members who grew up in Southern California added that they have traveled back and forth to Mexico all of their lives. This week’s stop to oceanside Nuevo Vallarta is an added bonus to their usual trips across the border.
“This area is really like some parts of San Diego, so I don’t even think of Mexico as being international,” said Californian Tiffany Joh of San Diego. “When I was a kid on Friday nights, we’d decide whether to go to Outback, the Olive Garden or to Tijuana [Mexico] for dinner. To me, this is like southern Southern California.”
Alvarez, Sheridan Chat Online With Fans
LPGA Futures Tour players Lili Alvarez and Sophia Sheridan stirred interest among Mexican golf fans once again when they each carded first-round scores of 5-under 68 to move one shot off the lead after today’s opening round of the Santorini Riviera Nayarit Classic presented by Pepsi.
After their rounds, both of the Mexican players chatted with fans online on www.espndeportes.com about their first day of play. So what did fans want to know?