Sarah Schnelzel , Credit pic

Sarah Schmelzel, 29 years of age and currently ranked 107 in the world, had an opening 67 in the first round of the HSBC Women’s World Championship which left her a shot ahead of such LPGA luminaries as Esther Henseleit, Linn Grant and Lilia Vu.

The American had five birdies in a row on the second half of the Tanjong course, the half she played first. It was the easier nine holes but, in fairness, nothing was easy on a day when the greens were dry and hard.

Whether or not Schmelzel goes on to win is another thing, but she certainly has a winning story to tell, one which started on March 16, 2001 in Phoenix, Arizona.  That was the day when her father, Dennis, a mad-keen golfer, pulled her out of school and raced up to Moon River to watch Annika Sorenstam finish her third round in the LPGA’s Standard Register Ping tournament at the club.  Word had reached him that the Swede was in particularly scintillating form.

The schoolteachers could well have been all set to complain about what the dad had done. As it was, they would have accepted that he was in the right as Sorenstam returned the 59 which has had her labelled “Miss 59” ever since.

“That’s when I fell in love with the game,” Schmelzel told Bret Lasky when she was playing on the Epsom Tour where he was the media manager.

She won her LPGA players’ card in 2019 and nothing much happened until the Drive On championship of ’22. Out of nowhere, she had six birdies in seven holes to shoot up the leaderboard and finish joint third. That she had five consecutive birdies at Sentosa would seem to emphasise that she is made of the right stuff.

She certainly had what it takes to hang on to her four-under par total when the cameras and the crowds caught up with her as she was playing down her 18th hole with the 15-year-old Singaporean qualifier, Xingtong Chen. Inevitably, the expectation was that nerves might come into play for both of them, but Schmelzel made a grand four to stay put at the top of the leaderboard while the teenager received the same level of applause for her 75.

When Chen’s hands had been shaking as she started off down the tenth, she told herself that she had nothing to get stressed about when she was the only amateur in the field. Also, she had listened to what Sorenstam had to say at her Thursday clinic about how she should focus on her game rather than anyone else’s.

Meanwhile, when she was asked by an official which of the players had gone out of their way to be kind to her over the practice days, she selected Lydia Ko. 

“Have you seen what she scored?” the official went on to ask. Chen looked down the list and found to her mingled amazement and disbelief, that she had matched Lydia’s 75 and the two of them were in a share of 53rd place.

In other words, a bad day for Lydia, but the best of days for her.

Where Ko had no birdies, Lilia Vu, the No. 1 in the world, had no bogies. The latter is trying not to look for too much from herself after a ’23 season in which her four wins included two majors. “A couple of wins here and there will do me this year,” came her smiling suggestion.

Germany’s Henseleit, though two over par after four, had four birdies in a row from the fifth on route to her 69, while Sweden’s Grant surprised no-one when she carded the same score in an often pesky wind..

Patty Tavatanakit, who came to Singapore having won each of her last two tournaments, is lying a share of 30th place after a 72. However, as the commentators were quick to say, she is only five shots behind the leader and has three rounds in which to put things to rights. 

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