GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Jeongeun Lee6 survived the pressure of the final round of a major championship to win the U.S. Women’s Open on Sunday.
After that, the first round of the $1.75 million, 54-hole ShopRite LPGA Classic was a breeze.
Lee6 shot an 8-under 63 on Bay Course at Seaview Hotel and Golf Club to share the Classic’s first-round lead with Pornanong Phatlum on Friday. Lexi Thompson, the top-ranked American in the world at No. 4, led a group of three golfers one shot back of the lead at 7-under 64.
“I felt really pretty relaxed,” Lee6 said. “I didn’t feel nervous. I just played it just like how I played it last week.”
Lee6 has a number in her last name because when she when joined the Korean LPGA Tour three years ago she was the sixth player named Jeongeun Lee. Six turned out to be her favorite number, so she added it to her last name.
The 6,197-yard, par-71 Bay Course always demands aggressive play. The ShopRite champion has shot 11-under or better in seven of the past nine years.
Seventy-six players in the 144-player field broke par in Friday’s first round. Birdies were especially plentiful in the morning when the wind was at the players’ backs on the 477-yard, par-5 ninth hole and the 507-yard, par-5 18th hole.
Phatlum, who joined the tour in 2009 and seeks her first LPGA victory, played the Bay Course’s three par-5 holes in 4-under. The 29-year Thailand native eagled the ninth — her final hole — when she sank a 12-foot putt.
That was one of just 24 putts she needed to shoot her 63. Phatlum has 27 top-10 finishes on tour, including second place at last year’s Women’s British Open and tied for 16th at the U.S. Women’s Open last weekend.
“I feel like I get more confident after last week,” Phatlum said. “I tried not (to) put pressure on myself, so it makes me more relaxed on the course.”
Lee6, a 23-year-old rookie from South Korea, is one of the most intriguing stories in golf. She drew one of the biggest afternoon galleries Friday.
“I feel pretty happy that so many people are watching me,” she said
On Friday, she played in the afternoon, when the wind blew its hardest. She had anything but a boring round with an eagle, nine birdies and three bogeys.
“I feel pretty confident,” she said. “I try to remind myself to think about the rhythm (of the shots) and just to be consistent with my shots and short game. That’s what I’ve been focusing on. That’s why I feel more confident.”
Thompson, a fan favorite, created the most excitement with her round. She made her pro debut at the Classic in 2010 and is playing ShopRite for the first time since 2015.
Thompson finished tied for second at the U.S. Women’s Open. She took Monday and Tuesday off and then began to prepare for the Classic.
“Last week was tough,” Thompson said. “It’s so intense and such a long week. It’s very draining.”
In addition to Thompson, LPGA rookies Muni He and Kristen Gillman each shot a 7-under 64.
Gillman, a two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, has one top-10 finish in nine events this year. She played her first four holes Friday in 4-under. Gillman, 21, capped the stretch with an eagle at the par-5 third hole. She hit her a second shot — a 196-yard hybrid 3-wood — to within 3 feet of the cup.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been 4-under after three holes,” she said with a laugh.
He was born in China but grew up in Vancouver Canada and attended Torrey Pines High School in San Diego. In addition to her golf game, He, 19, is known for her vibrant Instagram account, which has 220,000 followers.
She made seven birdies and no bogeys Friday. He had an immediate reaction when she first saw the Bay Course this week.
“I told my caddie, ‘I don’t want to jinx it, but I really like this golf course,’” He said. “It’s not too far. It requires a lot of accuracy. I really like the greens here, the grass here. I kind of had a good feeling about it coming in.”
The Classic’s second round begins at 7:15 a.m. Saturday with action from the first and 10th tees. Thirty players are within four shots of the lead.
The birdies, especially in the morning, most likely will be there for the taking again.
“I’ll have the same mindset (this weekend) as Friday,” Thompson said. “Just go out there relaxed and play fearless golf. Go out there and take my driver, 3-wood around, hit the wedges close and make putts. That’s all you can do.”