Natasha tops Sime Darby LPGA qualifiers

Natasha (left) being congratulated by Yayasan Sime Darby chairman Tun Musa Hitam ©Mike Casper|The ClubHouse

KUALA LUMPUR: National amateur Natasha Andrea Oon outshone her more experienced compatriots to win the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia National Qualifying Tournament on Wednesday.

The in-form teenager shot identical rounds of  one-under 70 to win the 36-hole qualifier, which hands the winner – irrespective of nationality – an automatic start in the US$1.8 million tournament proper from October 26-29.

Oon’s final day card of six birdies and five bogeys was enough to push her a stroke clear of Renuka Suksukont of Thailand (71-70) at the East Course of TPC Kuala Lumpur.

Overnight leader Aretha Pan was unable to match her splendid opening effort but a round of 75 nonetheless secured her seventh start in eight editions with an even-par 142 total.

The Sabahan will be joined by fellow professional Michelle Koh and national amateur Winnie Ng (tied on 144) as well as Nur Durriyah Damian (148), who is expected to make her professional bow at the tournament.

There were also dream starts for two-time Lim Siew Ai Salver champion Zulaikah Nurziana Nasser and Liyana Durisic, who received exemptions as the two best-placed junior amateurs (16 years and under) in the field after Oon and Ng.

The duo, who are part of the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia Development Programme, were chosen based on a scoring average derived from the qualifying tournament as well as eight other tournament rounds from select state, national and international events in 2017.

In addition to the seven local qualifiers, TPC Kuala Lumpur chief executive officer and tournament organising chairman Steven Thielke also confirmed that the country’s sole representative on the LPGA, Kelly Tan, will be awarded a start by virtue of being the top-placed Malaysian on the Rolex Rankings.

Leading final results (Par-71)
140 – Natasha Andrea Oon (Am) 70-70*
141 – Renuka Suksukont (THA) 71-70
142 – Aretha Pan Herng 67-75*
144 – Michelle Koh Lay Sia 73-71*, Winnie Ng Yu Xuan (Am) 71-73*
147 – Saruttaya Ngam-Usawan (THA) 74-73
148 – Nur Durriyah Damian (Am) 73-75*
149 – Dianne Luke Jia Zhen 72-77
150 – Genevieve Ling I-Rynn 74-76
151 – Dussavi Soompimjit (THA) 77-74
* Winner & top four Malaysians advance to Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia

[L to R] Winnie Ng, Nur Durriyah Damian, Aretha Pan, Natasha Oon, Michelle Koh, Liyana Durisic and Zulaikah Nurziana Nasser will carry the nation’s hope at the Sime Darby LPGA ©Mike Casper|The ClubHouse
Continuing a gallant run that has seen her record multiple state amateur open wins as well as advancing into the knockout rounds of the US Girls’ Junior Championship this year, Oon stamped her mark with an impressive putting display to top the 22-player field.

“I felt my performance over the two days were pretty similar – a lot of going back and forth. I made six birdies but came back one-under, so I need to return to the drawing board and try to eliminate the mistakes. I’m happy with how I played and I can take a lot of stuff from how I played today to the tournament proper,” said Oon, who just turned 16 last week.

“I was really surprised to top the field. My goal was really to just get into the tournament through a Malaysian [spot] but to win it outright, it’s pretty incredible. I’m really impressed with myself!” added the Cempaka Schools scholar.

Oon hopes to improve on her debut performance last year when she finished 74th and believes that lessons learnt will help steady her game as she tees off alongside some of the game’s finest lady professionals.

“Basically, the one lesson that has served me well since is that you can always bounce back. My first day was terrible – I shot an 80 – but I came back strongly with three consistent rounds in the 70s. If you believe in yourself, you can eventually master playing under pressure,” shared Oon.

Despite a disappointing final round, Pan was counting the positives of the week after recording a personal best four-under 67 during Tuesday’s first round.

“I didn’t start off the round well. I was playing rather conservatively but I tried to come back, and stay more focused on my shots.I’m happy to get in [to the tournament]but I need more rounds like yesterday if I’m to do well at the LPGA event,” said the 23-year-old.