Through the first round of the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic it’s a proven winner and a rookie looking for their big breakthrough tied at the top.

Sei Young Kim and Laura Gonzalez Escallon shot matching 7-under-par 65s Thursday from the Thornberry Creek at Oneida course to sit atop the standings by one shot over two golfers.

Kim, who notched a victory earlier this year at the Citibanex Lorena Ochoa Match Play presented by AeroMexico and Delta, has three other top-5 finishes on the season, including a tie for fourth at last week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

It's been a long time since I played well in the first round, so I'm very blessed to have shot a 7-under. We have three more days, and I'm looking forward to the other days,” she said.

She made eight birdies Thursday, offset by just a lone bogey.

“My shots were solid today, and the greens were softer, so I was able to go after the pins and give myself a lot of birdie opportunities,” explained Kim. “And then putting was good, and I made a lot of birdies.”

Escallon, meanwhile, is in her first year on the LPGA Tour. However, she’s been playing well right out of the gates – she notched a top 10 in her debut, and had a season-best finish (a tie for fifth) at the Manulife LPGA Classic just a few weeks ago.

“I started with a top 10, so that was a dream come true, and I mean, I'm just learning and enjoying it here,” Escallon said about her 2017 season. “I have a great caddie… so that helps just to have fun and enjoy it and try to meet people and get to know the courses.”

Escallon started well – she birdied three of her first four – but couldn’t get anything going during the middle portion of her round. She finished strong, however, birding four of her final five holes.

“I started really hot and then I kind of stumbled a little bit, so my goal was to finish strong, and I did that,” she explained. “It was great.”

Two other rookies, Madeliene Sheils and Min-G Kim, are chasing Kim and Escallon. Sheils and Kim – who hasn’t made a cut yet this season – are both at 6-under.

Sheils credits the work she’s done with her coach, Gabriel Hjerstedt, during an off-week last week (she had played seven-in-a-row up to that point) for her success Thursday.

“I had a really good session with my coach last weekend, and I felt like -- I played seven weeks straight, and then I had last week off, and as soon as I like rested and refreshed myself, it was like, oh, my gosh, I can do this, like I'm okay. I saw my coach, and I felt positive going into this whole week,” she explained, as she went bogey-free. “I hit just about every fairway, and I think I might have hit every green for like the first time in my life, so that makes golf really easy, as it turns out.”

Kim, meanwhile, matched Sheils with a bogey-free 66, her best round of the season. She said she’s been getting more adjusted to being a rookie on the LPGA Tour and is feeling more comfortable these days.

At the start of the year, I was like, ‘wait a minute, there are cameras everywhere.’ People are screaming your name and everything, and I was kind of scared of that at first because it was overwhelming. But as I got through it, I started enjoying it more, and I was like, yes, this is what I wanted,” said Kim. “This is what I wanted to do as a young girl, and that's what really helped me, I think, enjoying the crowd.”

A shot back of Kim and Sheils sits 15 golfers who all shot 5-under-par 67s on Thursday.

The group includes Alena Sharp, Brooke Pancake, Moriya Jutanugarn, and In Gee Chun, who has five top-5 finishes so far in 2017 but has yet to find the winner’s circle.

I had bounced back because I was a little down about my game during the last week, so I tried to enjoy my game again. So I really enjoyed today, so I'm happy now,” said Chun.

Another 15 golfers are a shot further back at 4-under including Charley Hull, Suzann Pettersen and Sandra Gal.

Brooke Henderson, who nearly defended her title at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship – she eventually finished just one shot back of Danielle Kang – finished at 1-under par and admitted there was a bit of an emotional reset this week after last week’s major.

“Last week took a lot out of me being in contention, especially in that last round. It drained a lot of energy, and I'm just trying to rebuild that this week, take a little bit more rest and maybe not practice quite as much and rebuild my energy,” said Henderson.

With 34 golfers within three shots of the lead, Friday will mean a lot of jockeying for position heading into the weekend.


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Written By: Adam Stanley