Jean tops local challenge

Jean Chua ©Mike Casper|TCH

KUALA LUMPUR: Jean Chua was pleasantly surprised to find herself as the top-placed Malaysian after the opening round of the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia on Thursday.

Having snagged a last minute sponsor’s invite to the US$1.8 million tournament, Chua repaid the faith of title sponsor Sime Darby with an even-par 71 to get her campaign off to a solid start at the East Course of TPC Kuala Lumpur.

LPGA regular Kelly Tan dropped a bogey on the closing hole to sign for a one-over 71 while amateur Ashley Lau Jen Wen overcame the excitement of teeing off in her first major professional tournament to post a two-over 73 – an effort matched by professional Michelle Koh.

At the top of the leaderboard, South Korea’s Amy Yang thrived in the humid conditions, firing four birdies in her last six holes for a flawless eight-under 63. The two-time winner on the LPGA leads by two shots from American Marina Alex.

How the Malaysian Angels fared in the first round (Par-71)
71 – Jean Chua
72 – Kelly Tan
73 – Ashley Lau Jen Wen (A), Michelle Koh
75 – Nur Durriyah Damian (A), Ainil Johani Abu Bakar
77 – Aretha Pan Herng
78 – Winnie Ng Yu Xuan (A)
80 – Natasha Andrea Oon (A)

Chua – who is the eldest of the nine-strong local contingent nicknamed the Malaysian Angels – credited a fun approach to her effort, which left in a share for 30th.

“Yeah, I’m really happy. I started pretty well and fun out there. I think that was the key. I started two-under after 13 holes and I kind of dropped two shots on 14 and 15. I was a little shaky after that but coming in with three pars was great,” she noted.

“My irons was good. My driver towards the end warmed up a little bit, which was good. Putting saved me quite a bit on the back nine, especially on 16 and 17,” added the 29-year-old, who plies her trade on the LPGA’s secondary Symetra Tour.

Chua only arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday morning after participating in the second stage of the LPGA Qualifying School in California, USA last weekend. Despite missing out on a practice round, she relied on her experience from four previous editions to negotiate the course.

“I haven’t really seen the course. We were a little slow getting all the yardages but I think it was because the course was still fresh in my mind. I don’t have any memories of bad shots, good shots. It was just whatever I hit today, it was the shot,” said Chua.

Kelly Tan ©Mike Casper|TCH
Kelly Tan ©Mike Casper|TCH

Malaysian number one Tan was cruising to a even-par start herself until she pulled her second shot into the sand trap on the 18th.

“I thought I played pretty good today but obviously, I would have liked to finish strongly instead of bogeying the last hole. I struggled a little with my driver on the front nine but managed to figure it out and I was striking the ball beautifully until the last hole. I was trying to pull off a cut on my second shot but found the bunker instead,” rued Tan.

Ashley Lau Jen Wen ©Mike Casper|TCH
Ashley Lau Jen Wen ©Mike Casper|TCH

Sixteen-year-old Lau underlined her growing credentials as a star of the future with a solid performance on her debut.

The confident Bintulu native traded two birdies with two bogeys to make the turn level-par but dropped back-to-back bogeys on 10 and 11 before mixing a birdie and a further bogey in the closing stretch.

“I was shaking on the first tee box – my hands and legs were trembling but somehow, I managed to put the ball next to pin for a good opening birdie. It felt really good but I dropped a bogey on the very next hole, so it took a while to get the kinks out of the system,” she said.

“I made some mistakes and missed a couple of putts. Probably, got a little nervous as they were a lot of people watching but managed to calm myself down and just stay in the present,” shared the student at the Hills International College in Brisbane, Australia.

Michelle Koh ©Mike Casper|TCH
Michelle Koh ©Mike Casper|TCH

Koh, who also arrived back yesterday, admitted that she was still jet-lagged as she struggled with her ball striking and distance control on the greens.

“I wasn’t hitting it great and I didn’t have a positive start. I felt very shaky and I was not striking it where I wanted to and it left me scrambling. [The score] came back pretty decent but I need to acclimatise to the greens, I didn’t get the speed right today,” noted the Kuantan lass.