Co-leader Blumenherst steps into starring role

Amanda Blumenherst reacts to her missed putt on the 18th hole during the ShopRite LPGA Classic on the Bay Course at Stockton Seaview Hotel & Golf Club in Galloway Township on Friday. Blumenherst, the first-round co-leader, says she’s trying to have fun while she plays. ‘I remember that a lot of people would just kill to have a chance to play professional golf as a living,’ said Blumenherst, whose husband, Nate Freiman, is a rookie first baseman for the Oakland Athletics.

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - Amanda Blumenherst glanced around midway through the first round of the $1.5 million ShopRite LPGA Classic on Friday.

She noticed several cameras following her.

"It's been a while, so I was like, 'Oh, there's the Golf Channel,' " Blumenherst said. "I must be doing pretty well. I didn't really look at the leaderboard, but I knew I had to be doing well if Golf Channel was following me."

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Blumenherst shot 5-under-par 66 on the Bay Course at Stockton Seaview Hotel & Golf Club. She is tied with 18-year-old Moriya Jutanugarn of Thailand for the first-round lead. The 54-hole tournament continues at 7 a.m. today and concludes Sunday.

Defending champion Stacy Lewis shot a 4-under-par 67 and is one shot back. Michelle Wie (3-under 68) is fourth, two shots out of the lead. Inbee Park of South Korea, the No. 1 player in the world, shot a 3-over 74.

"It feels amazing," Blumenherst said of her round. "It's been a while since I've had a very solid round of golf. I felt like I just played well throughout the entire day."

Blumenherst arrived at the Classic in a slump. She missed the cut in six of eight events this year.

Blumenherst joined the LPGA full time in 2010. She has yet to win despite being one of the most accomplished players in NCAA history. She was the Player of the Year from her freshman through junior seasons at Duke University.

She is determined to have fun on the course no matter how well or poorly she hits the ball. It helped that she played Friday with friends Natalie Gulbis and Jessica Shepley.

"I remember that a lot of people would just kill to have a chance to play professional golf as a living," Blumenherst said.

An eagle on the 484-yard, par-5 third hole made Blumenherst smile even more. She hit a 3-wood from the fairway to just off the green's back fringe. Blumenherst then sank a 35-putt for the eagle 3.

Blumenherst credited her low round to her ability to drive the ball well from the tee. She hit 12-of-14 fairways.

While Blumenherst's professional life has been a struggle, her personal life couldn't be any better. She married Oakland Athletics rookie first baseman Nate Freiman five months ago. The two met at their Duke freshmen orientation and have been dating for seven years. Blumenherst stayed up late Sunday night to watch Freiman hit a home run and knock in three runs in a 6-2 win over the Houston Astros.

"I have to pinch myself sometimes," Blumenherst said. "To finally have us both be at the majors of our sport - there are very few people that can say that they've done this."

Nearly all of the first-round leaders teed off in the morning. Only 18 of the 143 players who finished the first round broke par, and only five of those teed off after noon.

The par-71, 6,155-yard Bay Course played tougher as Friday wore on. The wind off Reeds Bay picked up. The recent cool weather also made the Bay Course's poa annua greens a bit bumpy, according to the players, as that strain of grass thrives in colder temperatures.

"They've definitely gotten better throughout the week," Lewis said of the greens, "so hopefully with this hot weather, come Sunday they'll be rolling even better."

Jutanugarn, 18, is one of the tour's top rookies this year, but she is the second most famous golfer in her family. Her 17-year-old sister, Ariya, has finished no worse than fourth in the five events she's played this year. Ariya is a not a full-time member of the tour because she is not 18. She tried to qualify for the Classic but did not earn one of the two spots available at Monday's qualifying round.

Moriya was glad she played in the morning.

"I hit (tee shots) in the fairway a lot," she said. "It kept me in places that are easy to play (from)."

Big crowds followed Lewis and her playing partners, Paula Creamer (74) and Suzann Pettersen (76), around the Bay Course. Fans wished Lewis luck as she walked up the ninth fairway.

"It seems every week, everywhere we go, the number of fans I have seems to grow and grow and grow, and I'm having the biggest crowds follow me around," Lewis said. "It's really cool that people are watching and noticing what I'm doing."

With 36 holes left in the tournament, the players' priority Friday was to put themselves into position to contend this weekend.

Blumenherst hopes to see more cameras following her today. But she doesn't want to get caught up in what place she's in. That might ruin her "fun" vibe.

"I'm going to just try to keep continuing (Friday's round), have a good time with my group, and try not to look at the leaderboard because that can be tempting," she said.

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