21 Apr 2022 | Professional golf |

Masterful Meg the one to catch in Bonville

by Contributor

England's Meghan MacLaren has become a Coffs Harbour specialist.
England's Meghan MacLaren has become a Coffs Harbour specialist.

By Mark Hayes

Day one wrap

Coffs Harbour specialist Meghan MacLaren has jumped to the early Australian Women’s Classic lead at Bonville Resort.

England’s MacLaren, a past winner of the Women’s NSW Open at nearby Coffs Harbour Golf Club, fired five birdies and no bogeys to hold a one-shot buffer on a crowded day one leaderboard with 24 players in red numbers within four strokes.

The nearest trio come from all corners of the globe in the co-sanctioned Ladies European Tour event. Melbourne’s Steph Bunque fired two eagles in her closing five holes to storm to four under, alongside Spanish veteran Carmen Alonso and Indian Amandeep Drall.

After an enthralling opening round and with the threat of more rain in the forecast some solid late moves by pre-tournament European fancies Alice Hewson (69), Olivia Mehaffey (69) and Maja Stark (70) might all become important.

MacLaren, though, was the most consistent.

“The key was patience. I didn’t make any bogeys today and I feel that’s a pretty good effort around here, especially because you can get on the wrong side of the hole and in tough spots pretty quickly,” she said.

“But I hit a lot of greens and just cleaned up really well.”

Bunque was lucky to avoid a watery grave with her long approach to the closing par-5, but her sand wedge from the edge of the penalty area took one hop and dived into the hole, sparking a huge roar.

“I felt a little bit rocky in the first six or seven holes, just trying to get into a groove,” Bunque said.

“I was a bit lost at the start, but I managed to find my feet on the back nine.”

Alonso, who earlier this season became the most prolific Spaniard - in terms of events played – in LET history, played her best round after many visits to a course she loves.

“I’m really happy because this is a challenging golf course,” she said.

“In the beginning when I came here, I couldn’t break 78 so to be signing for 68 I’m really happy.”

Drall, from Chandigarh in northern India, interestingly takes great delight in the Australian take on her native cuisine.

But she has also found the right recipe to conquer the bright and spacious surrounds of Bonville.

“The last two times I was too intimidated by the shots and the trees and the slopes,” she said.

“So this time around I stuck to my process and just played shot by shot.My putter was hot, though I did give myself a lot of chances to make birdies.”

Crowd favourite and LPGA Tour player Sarah Kemp looked ominous early when she birdied the tough 13th, then sat on the lip for eagle on the 14th.

But the New South Wales ace had her putter go cold and had to settle for a one-under-par finish.

Young Queenslander Justice Bosio is the early leading amateur at two under, but she’s closely followed by NSW Amateur champion Sarah Hammett, of the Gold Coast, and newly minted NSW state player Brie Mapanao, both at one under.

Bunque hops aboard the Steph train

There’s someone in the Australian Women’s Classic who really hopes that Bonville remains “Steph friendly”.

Steph Bunque, 24, has been on the fringe of taking the “next big step” for a couple of years now – and edged a little closer with an opening 68 at Bonville today.

And she need only take a look at the honour roll for easy inspiration.

Steph Kyriacou, the champ last time around in Bonville pre-Covid, was an amateur with hopes more than plans when she streeted the field in 2020.

The Sydneysider was a friend and rival of Bunque through their amateur careers and now the Victorian is in a position to dare to dream of the doors that have since opened for Kyriacou.

“Absolutely. Especially seeing what Steph did last time here and seeing how her career has just sky-rocketed after that is really inspiring and I hope to do something similar this week,” said Bunque, who had no idea she’d played the last five holes today in five under today to move within one of early leader Meghan MacLaren.

“I had a lengthy putt drop on 14th, which is unusual for me,” she said of the first of her two late eagles.

“Then on 18, I hit this horrendous hybrid (for my second) but it plugged just outside the hazard so I got to take relief, and my third apparently went one hop and in.”

That unlikely finish was greeted with enormous roars from the clubhouse precinct, with several keen Bunque fans – and her Coffs Harbour billet family – in raptures.

“Yeah, I’ve got a few locals following me around, especially the Schoeffel family who I’ve stayed with here for four years and they’re my number one fan base,” Bunque said gratefully.

“Being alone and so far from home can be a bit daunting, so it’s always nice to have a few familiar faces around.”

Earlier, Bunque had been two over through seven holes after making a meal of the par-5 seventh. But the powerful second-year pro added birdies on the ninth, tenth and 15th holes around her two eagles to make her move.

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