Story from LPGA State Farm Classic in Springfield, Ill.
Sherri Steinhauer was just like everyone else on Thursday at Panther Creek Country Club — golfers and spectators alike. “What was good for me today, you go out there and have no expectations,” said Steinhauer, who has played in the LPGA State Farm Classic for 20 of her 22 years on the tour. Yet Steinhauer was as much a novice as any rookie in the Classic’s opening round, which marked a new beginning for the event after it was held at The Rail for its first 31 years. “You have no idea what anybody’s going to be shooting,’’ Steinhauer said after taking the lead with a 5-under-par 67. “Sometimes I think I get into my own way when I’m worried about possible outcomes and maybe trying to fire a low number. For instance, at The Rail you knew you had to score low. So when you start missing putts you would get frustrated. “I don’t have any of those expectations because I don’t know what the players are going to do.” Pre-tournament speculation called for low scoring that would keep with the Classic’s tradition, despite the move to a new course. But Panther Creek, perhaps with an assist from Mother Nature, decided to make some revisions to the original script. Just 10 of the 144 players broke 70 in the LPGA’s inaugural round at Panther Creek, where there were a grand total of four eagles on Thursday — all on the par-5 16th hole. It was a serious contrast to the 25 first-round 60-somethings at The Rail a year ago. And it’s Steinhauer leading the way into the second round today after she shot a five-birdie, no-bogey round to hold a one-shot edge over Japan’s Ai Miyazato and seven-year tour member Marcy Hart. “It was a real solid first round,” said Steinhauer, who’s seeking her first win of the season while she also prepares to play for the United States in the Solheim Cup matches in two weeks in Sweden. “I just made five birdies, no bogeys, and just had a couple of good up-and-downs (to save par). It was one of those rounds that just seemed real easy, although golf never is easy. It was fun to have a day like today.” Steinhauer said it was doubly fun because her parents, Fritz and Nancie Steinhauer, drove down from Madison, Wis., to watch their daughter for just the second time this year. “They usually always go to Vegas and Atlantic City because they have some extracurricular activities there,” Steinhauer said. “But those two tournaments got canceled, so (her parents) weren’t real happy about that.” Other than tonight’s high school football slate and this weekend’s motorcycle races at the state fairgrounds, the LPGA is the only game in town. But the field on Thursday found itself playing a little different game than anticipated. After several practice days with the usual wind out of the south, a cool front brought in a 10-to-15 mph wind out of the northeast on Thursday. “I thought today was tougher than the practice round and the pro-am,” said defending champion Annika Sorenstam, who opened with a 71. “The wind has picked up a club or two. In certain places, the greens are getting a little firmer, too, and the fairways are definitley getting firmer. “So it’s a little different approach than the practice round, but the wind here toughens the course. I think it’s good.” Kate Golden, who won the 2001 Classic at The Rail with a final-round 63, was one of seven players who opened with a 69 to trail Steinhauer by two shots. Golden was joined by Leta Lindley, Morgan Pressel, Christina Kim, Australia’s Rachel Heatherington, Scotland’s Janice Moodie and Rookie of the Year front-runner Angela Park. The field will be cut to the low 70 scores and ties after today’s second round. Ninety players shot 1-over 73 or below Thursday, including 26 tied for 65th place at 73. Pressel was poised to join Steinhauer at the top as she also was at 5 under par entering her final hole, No. 9. But Pressel’s second shot went into the water on the right side and she took a double-bogey 6. “I didn’t top it; it just never got up out of the rough — I had a bad lie,” said the 19-year-old Pressel, who hit a hybrid club after her tee shot landed near the water. “I played OK until then. I didn’t miss too many shots, just a couple toward the end. The scoring was tough today. It was pretty windy out there. But it’s all in whether you can get it close enough to the hole.” Steinhauer, whose best State Farm Classic finish was a fourth-place tie in 1997, made four birdie putts ranging from 20 to 30 feet. The only exception came at No. 16, where she hit a 6-iron to within 3 feet and made the putt. “It was one of those days where I just kind of got (putts) started on line, and they held their line,” said Steinhauer, who played in a morning group Thursday but will tee off at 12:32 p.m. today on No. 10 with Mi Hyun Kim (70 Thursday) and Solheim teammate Angela Stanford (72). “That’s generally due to, you know, striking the putts solidly. And I was doing that today, not something I’ve been doing much this year, so it really felt good.” Like Pressel, Miyazato had a chance for the share of the lead before bogeying the 18th hole when her second shot went into the water. But she salvaged bogey to share second place with Hart. “I had a good up and down (to save bogey), so I was happy,” said Miyazato, a second-year tour member seeking her first career win. “I’m not sure if I will get my first win this week, but I will try. I just want to enjoy this week.” Hart, a University of North Carolina product also seeking her first win, used a chip-in birdie on No. 13 — her fourth hole of the day Thursday — to buoy her round. “That’s not how I planned to play it,” joked Hart. “I think this course is similar to The Rail, and The Rail has always yielded low numbers. So that’s kind of the mind-set I went into today with.” But at least for one day, Panther Creek wasn’t ready to serve as The Rail South for the LPGA Tour. Steinhauer expects everyone to get acclimated as the weekend progresses.’ “It is strange, coming into Springfield and driving in a different direction,” she said. “I got to Springfield, and I had to ask my caddie how to get to the golf course. Usually you’re just on autopilot, driving around. “But Panther Creek is a real nice golf course, and the facilities are wonderful for us. We appreciate what The Rail has done, and we had a great run out there. And it’s great to be here now.”