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30 Nov - 3 Dec, 2023

30 Nov 2023 | Women's Australian Open | Australian Open | Professional golf |

Women's wrap: From tee time close call to Open co-lead for Lee

by Jimmy Emanuel

Rachel Lee
NSW amateur Rachel Lee during round one of the ISPS HANDA Women's Australian Open

Australian amateur Rachel Lee’s ISPS HANDA Women's Australian Open nearly got off to a horror start before the Sydneysider experienced all four seasons in one day and eventually shared the lead with Jenny Shin at the end of the first day.

In the field after Monday qualifying at Ryde Parramatta, the 16-year-old was mere seconds away from missing her tee time at The Lakes on Thursday, with the Avondale member recovering from the scare to post a 6-under 67 and sit level with American Shin, with Korea’s Jiyai Shin one back.

“I thought I was at 8:38 not 8:28 and I’ve learnt my lesson, so I won’t do that again hopefully,” Lee said of her tee time mishap.

“I was, I was putting and then my coach just said, “Rachel, you’re on the tee”, so I just ran for my life.”

That run clearly didn’t upset Lee’s rhythm, with par at the first followed by the first of eight birdies on the day for the Endeavour Sports High School student who has already thoroughly enjoyed her week after a practice round with one of her golfing idols.

Identifying 2013 Australian Open winner Shin, that’s Jiyai Shin, as “my hero”, Lee, who finished T40 last year spoke of the learning opportunity alongside the former world No.1 who owns more than 60 worldwide professional titles, and opened with a bogey-free 68.

“I had a practice round with Jiyai Shin at The Australian, so it was very nice and I learnt heaps from her,” Lee said.

“She was telling me to challenge myself and shape shots, I used them quite a fair bit today and it worked out really well.”

Holing a putt for birdie on the par-3 18th after a classy 5-iron in driving rain, play was briefly suspended at The Lakes immediately after Lee’s group putted out, with Steph Kyriacou happily dry in the clubhouse after signing for a four-under 69 to sit in a share of fourth having teed it up alongside Minjee Lee and Gabi Ruffels.

“I was pretty nervous on the 1st and it took me a few holes to settle in, but then as it kind of goes on, everyone’s just walking along and the nerves eased down, but it still wasn’t like normal. A bit of adrenaline too,” Kyriacou said.

One back of Kyriacou, tournament favourite Minjee Lee fought back admirably after a bogey-par-bogey-double bogey run to sign for a three-under 70 before the rain softened the greens and suggested a low score was in the offering in for the afternoon field.

The American Shin more than happy to oblige, so too defending champion Ashleigh Buhai, who drew level with Kyriacou on 4-under, while Grace Kim signed for two-under with another of the favourites Hannah Green on even par.

“I had a pretty good run in the beginning I think,” Shin said.

“I made a long 20-footer and then I dropped a few 10-footers, and then it got kind of quiet.”

Rolling in a five-metre putt for four at the par-5 18th at The Australian, Shin’s closing birdie her sixth on a day when the LPGA Tour winner did not register a dropped shot to be well placed heading into her second round at The Lakes despite a long year in America.

“I’ve done a really good job with my physical this year,” she said. “I have last year’s trainer who travelled with me and we’ve been really on top of the game with that, so the body’s been feeling pretty good.”

Also feeling pretty good despite a two-over opening round will be Japan’s Ayaka Sugihara who was out in the first women’s group of the day at The Australian and recorded a hole-in-one at the 11th with a perfectly struck 7-iron from 144 metres.

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