(Danielle Bambola ties off on the 18th at Innis Arden. The 19 year-old amateur shot 67 and is one shot back of leader Elsa Diaz)
At 5636 yards, Innis Arden looked getable. The scores told a different story.
On day one of the 20th Connecticut Women’s Open, with fair, warm weather cooperating, only three players scored in the 60s, only four were under par. A total of six were at level par or better.
Elsa Diaz of San Antonio, fresh from graduation at the University of Richmond and professional baptism at the LPGA Kingsmill Championship, shot 66 to take the first-day lead. A pre-round call from her chiropractor Dad, also her swing coach, paved the way, she said.
“He just said, ‘Go out there and learn’,” said Diaz, who admitted to having the jitters at Kingsmill. “That was good. I felt pretty confident, but not too confident, you know. I went for pins, but I didn’t get crazy. I had a lot of one-putts, too.”
An understatement. Diaz birdied four times on the front, four times on the back and made only two bogeys on the way to six under. Consecutive birdies from the 10th through the 13th holes turned a warm round into a very hot one.
Amateur Danielle Bambola used a similar streak on the front, birdieing holes 3 through 6, shot even par on the backside, and finished a shot back at 67. Her front-nine 31 was her lowest round in competition, better than anything she’d done at Cortland College or the recent DIII Regionals.
“It’s insane,” said Bambola. “I mean, I expected to do well, but this is wild!” Her father Peter, one of a dozen or so dads who caddied for their daughters at Innis Arden, said she’d been “knocking on the door” for a while and some recent intensive short game practice made the difference.
Lurking close to the top were two members of the Michigan State Spartan Big Ten Championship team. Sarah Burnham, an MSU senior, shot 69, despite bogeys on both the par-5 17th and the par-3 18th. Burnham hit three-wood often on the tee because “there are a lot of par 4s where you just have to hit the fairway.” Despite slips on 17 and 18 she felt confident. “I just have to keep an even keel.” Though some players thought 139 or 140 would be competitive, Burnham thought that it could go a few shots lower.
Teammate Catherine McEvoy, a member at Innis Arden and two-time Connecticut Women’s Amateur Champion, shot (-1) 71. “I hit a lot of irons close and the putts just didn’t fall,” said McEvoy. “But I think the key for me is to stick to the plan. Play the course, not the field. Hope that more putts fall tomorrow.”
Between the teammates was Mia Barchetti, who shot 70. Barchetti made a rare birdie on the 162-yard 18th and did most of the way what many competitors said they’d tried to do on the tight, Robert Trent Jones layout: hit fairways. “You just have to,” she said. “Every time I put myself in the rough it was a brutal up and down.” Barchetti said chipping around the greens, where lush rough made controlling the ball difficult was key, and would remain so Tuesday.
“My plan? Same as today. Hit fairways,” said Barchetti.