Chinese Taipei’s Pan Yen-ling takes charge at Hong Kong Ladies Open
The 22-year-old takes five-shot lead over her nearest challengers after a blistering opening round of nine-under 63
What a difference a year makes. After just 36 holes of the inaugural Hong Kong Ladies Open Pan Yen-ling was heading for the airport after carding consecutive rounds of 80 to miss the cut. Fast forward 12 months and the 22-year-old holds a commanding first-round lead following a blistering assault on the Old Course at Fanling.
Pan, who has yet to win since turning pro three years ago, took advantage of her accurate long drives – and the rain-softened course – to fire a sublime nine-under 63 and put her in pole position for the second edition of the US$150,000 event.
Because of the preferred lies ruling in place, Pan’s score won’t count as a new women’s course record. Not that the powerful player from Chinese Taipei was too concerned about that caveat.
“My previous best round in a tournament is 68, so this is really an amazing day for me,” said Pan, who only took up the game at the age of 16. “This isn’t an easy golf course at all – it’s very narrow. But I have practised a lot and taken a lot of advice from my uncle, who is a golf instructor. My game really came together, but to shoot 63 is still a big surprise for me.”
Pan’s performance was made all the more impressive after she dropped two consecutive shots early in her round. But a miraculous run of eight birdies and an eagle – at the par-5 11th – in the space of just 11 holes around the turn gives her a five-shot lead over her nearest challengers, Thailand’s Kanphinitnan Muangkhunmsakul and Chinese amateur Liu Yan in second place.
“The real difference between this year and the last is my mental approach to the game,” said the in-form Pan, who finished in a share of second at an LPGA of Taiwan event just two weeks ago. “Before I would worry every time I made a bogey. But now, I try not to think about anything negative. I just try to carry on and play the best that I can.”
Despite frequent outbreaks of heavy rain, the Old Course’s excellent drainage meant that play continued unhindered during a day that saw the tournament’s first hole-in-one; the ace coming from Canada’s Aram Choi, who found the bottom of the cup with her tee shot at the par-3 fifth.
Hong Kong hopeful, Tiffany Chan, the No 14-ranked amateur in the world who is vying for a spot in the Rio Olympics, recovered after a shaky beginning to card a 70 to find herself in a share of fifth.
“I was pretty nervous when I teed off and made a couple of early bogeys,” said the 22-year-old University of Southern California student, who has former Hong Kong men’s international Steven Lam caddying for her this week. “I’m glad that Steven is on the bag; we talked a lot – mostly stupid stuff that had nothing to do with golf – which helped calm me down.
“Overall I’m pretty satisfied after coming back the way I did after the start I had,” continued Chan, who carded three back-nine birdies to get herself into contention. “I drove the ball really well, but the key is staying patient. We’ll see what happens over the weekend but I’m feeling good.”