Madelene Sagstrom (Enkoping, Sweden) might be playing the best in all of women’s professional golf. She has finished inside the top five in all four events and raced out to the lead at the Self Regional Healthcare Foundation Women’s Health Classic with a tournament-record 6-under 66. Sagstrom will take a three shot lead into round two on Friday. Michelle Piyapattra (Eastvale, Calif), Sherman Santiwiwatthanaphong (Thailand) and Pavarisa Yuktuan (Thailand) are closest at 3-under 69.

Sagstrom, 23, who tops the Volvik Race for the Card money list by over $25,000, started strong with a
chip-in eagle on the par-5 10th hole.

“I hit a good drive so I was like ‘I can go for this’,” explained Sagstrom, who ranks third in driving distance on Tour (274.462). “My second shot caught the tree so I ended up a little short by the edge of the bunker. I picked a spot, hit the spot, but it came out a little hot and it hit the pin and just dropped and I was like ‘OK, that works out’ so it was just a nice start.”

Sagstrom made par on 11 and then birdied 12. She closed her outward nine with a 3-footer for birdie on 18. Sagstrom’s lone bogey of the day came on hole one. She recovered with a birdie on two and then
punctuated her round with birdies on six and eight.

“It helps to get off to a great start especially after a week off,” explained Sagstrom. “It feels good that I am still on track. I was really happy to see some putts drop. It’s a good start and I’m just going to keep doing the same things.”

Sagstrom has played in the final group in three of four Symetra Tour events and won the Chico’s Patty Berg Memorial. Nine of her first 14 rounds have been under-par and only two have been over-par.

With a win this week, Sagstrom would become just the third player in Tour history to cross over $90,000 in single-season earnings. She would also pull one win away from a “Battlefield Promotion” to the LPGA.
Players that win three Symetra Tour events in a single-season receive LPGA Tour status for that season.

Sagstrom is the only player in women’s golf right now, including the LPGA, with a top five streak of four. Brooke Henderson lost her eight top 10’s in a row in Dallas last week and Lydia Ko finished outside the top 10 in Hawaii. The only player on the LPGA that may be playing to the level of Sagstrom right now is Symetra Tour graduate Gerina Piller, who has finished inside the top 10 in five of her last six starts.

More than results, she has the right attitude.

“I feel like I can’t fail on a shot, the ball is going to end up where it wants to be and if let my body do the work, good things are going to happen in the long run,” said Sagstrom. “I stay focused and let my body do the work.”

PAVARISA YOKTUAN NEAR TOP IN SECOND START: In just her second Symetra Tour start, Pavarisa Yoktuan, who turned 22-years-old two days ago, carded a 3-under 69 to put herself in contention.

“I made birdies on all the par-5 holes so that was really good,” said Yoktuan. “We got lucky because we started in the early morning and the wind wasn’t as strong.”

Yoktuan is playing in the United States for the first time after starting her professional career on the Asian Tour. She earned partial LPGA Tour status by finishing T32 at 2015 LPGA Qualifying Tournament.

She has played in one LPGA Tour event this year (LOTTE Championship) and missed the cut two weeks ago at the Guardian Retirement Championship at Sara Bay.

“This round makes me feel like I can play out here because last event I missed the cut,” said Yoktuan. “It’s a good start for me and I don’t think this course is too difficult to make birdies.”

PIYAPATTRA HAS BEEN ALL OVER GREENWOOD THIS WEEK: Michelle Piyapattra (Eastvale, Calif.) has been everywhere in Greenwood this week and now she’s near the top of the leaderboard.

She was at Deer Creek Driving Range on Tuesday helping with a junior clinic and made an appearance at the Burton Center on Wednesday.

Piyapattra posted a 3-under 69 on Thursday and is in a tie for second.

“This is our second year out here so we (her travel buddy is Luciane Lee) decided do more,” said
Piyapattra. “It definitely puts things in perspective. It makes you understand that the tournament is not just about us (players). It’s just great going out in the community and seeing the impact we have.”

Piyapattra made four birdies during a six hole stretch between the end of her first nine and the start of the second. She grinded for two birdies, a bogey and six pars over her final nine.

“The course takes longer to play because there is some trouble to get into and I thought we were going to stop with the wind and rain,” said Piyapattra in regards to one ten minute stretch when the rain and wind really picked up. “I was building momentum during the tough conditions and I was able to get into the swing of things.”

The former Columbia Lions golfer said she was most pleased with her putting after attempting just 26.

“I knew they were going to make the greens faster today so I was happy with how I did,” said Piyapattra. “I need to work on my approach shots a little bit.”

After running around in the community before the tournament, Piyapattra said pacing herself is key now.

“I did well the first day in Fort Myers and then did awful the second day so it was kind of a wasted
opportunity,” said Piyapattra. “Getting top 10 or top 20 here is almost like getting top 10 in three or four events so there is definitely more pressure, but you can’t think about that.”

Piyapattra looked at the scores before going out in Sarasota and that messed with her mentally. Today, she didn’t look at a leaderboard and that’s the plan for the rest of the week.

OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST GETS IN FIELD 30 MINUTES BEFORE TEE TIME: Vera Shimanskaya’s bag is unmistakable. She is the only person in all of women’s golf that has the Olympic rings displayed
prominently under her name.

This story doesn’t have a happy ending for now. After getting into the field off the alternate list 30 minutes before her tee time, she posted a 90 and was automatically withdrawn in Greenwood.

Shimanskaya won gold at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney as a 19-year-old. Now, 35, and the
mother of a baby daughter, she is hoping to reach the pinnacle of another sport.

“After I won the gold, I opened my own school in Moscow and I had a little student whose mom was in the Russian Golf Association,” explained Shimanskaya. “She invited me to a golf clinic and I really enjoyed it and my first shot was very good so I decided that I want to participate. I started to play and here I am.”

Shimanskaya came to LPGA Qualifying Tournament in 2014, but didn’t advance out of Stage I. She took a medical in 2015 as she was pregnant with her now baby daughter.

Shimanskaya first started gymnastics at the age of four when her mother took her to the gym. At the age of ten, she decided she wanted something more than traditional gymnastics and qualified for the Russian team in rhythmic gymnastics.

“You become like a robot, doing your routine day-after-day-after-day from eight in the morning until eight at night,” said Shimanskaya. “When you go to the competition, you don’t think because it is all instincts.”

Shimanskaya said winning the gold was a dream come true, but she also admitted that she enjoyed the
moment for an hour and then started to wonder what she would do next.

“When we saw the result, it was amazing, it was a dream of mine,” said Shimanskaya, who has followed the Tour since Sarasota. “After you get the medal, you sort of start to think ‘what am I going to do next’
because all my life I was dreaming about a gold medal and I got it so now what is next is the question.”

Shimanskaya has spent lond days at the course as an alternate over the last two weeks and appears to have the drive to succeed in golf as she did in gymnastics.

“I bring all the experience I have in gymnastics to golf,” said Shimanskaya. “Right now, I’m focused on
doing the best I can do. It’s hard right now to be honest. I didn’t play golf in my childhood and I didn’t know anything about the sport.”

Unlike gymnastics where top athletes shine as teenagers and fade as adults, golf has provided
Shimanskaya a competitive outlet later in life.

“I feel like I can play golf until I die,” said Shimanskaya. “I feel like I have more to accomplish in sport and I can’t do it in gymnastics because I’ve lost flexibility so now I am in golf.”

 

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