HARRIS - After missing the initial Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass to get married last year, Laura Martin is hoping to get an anniversary gift for her husband.
The West Chester, Ohio. resident moved into the title picture in Friday's opening round of the Symetra Tour Road to the LPGA tournament by shooting a 2-under-par 70 at Sweetgrass Golf Club. She is tied with Aimee Neff of Carmel, Ind., Courtney Massey of Gold Coast, Australia and Michelle Shin of Cape Coral, Fla.
Neff learned Thursday she has made the field for next week's U.S. Open at Blackwolf Run, just three hours south in Kohler, Wis.
Dennis Grall | Daily Press
Courtney Massey of Gold Coast, Australia ponders her putt on the 18th green Friday at the Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass. She is the opening-round co-leader of the Symetra Tour event with 2-under-par 70. (Daily Press photo by Dennis Grall)
A stroke back are Victoria Elizabeth and Emma Jandel of Dayton, Ohio, Allison Hanna of Portland, Ore. and Laura Kueny of Whitehall, Mich.
Another 10 are tied at par 72, including 2005 U.S. Open champion Birdie Kim and the tour's oldest regular, 41-year-old Nicole Jeray.
"I heard so many good things about this tournament that I had to work it into my schedule," Martin said after her opening round. Noting tour friends sent her messages at her wedding that she was missing a great event, Martin said Friday "they treat us like celebrities here."
Her husband Alex is a teaching pro and they try to get together as much as possible. With the tour idle last week, they spent time in Chicago. There is another break next week, then she hits the road for six weeks and he is planning to caddy at two of the tournaments.
"It's hard, but we really support each other. We knew what we were signing up for," she said of not spending a lot of time together during golf season. "It is a risk we were willing to take."
Noting they will sometimes drive four hours to just spend an hour together, she said "it is actually weird to spend time together."
Martin said they will re-evaluate her career after each season to determine what path they will follow. She attended Q school last year but missed advancing by two strokes.
She said the wedding date was set a year in advance, only to find out the tourney came the same weekend. "I always wanted a summer wedding. I was not going to give up my dream because of my career," she said. "That is supposed to be the best day of your life. It was. I have no regrets."
She has made the cut in all six tournaments this season but has only earned $3,200. "We got some nice wedding gifts," she said of missing a chance to make money at this tourney last year.
Neff, a former Michigan State University player, said making the Open as an alternate "is exciting, thrilling. It was a great relief" to get the phone call Thursday, after learning a day earlier her status had been upgraded.
"It was a blessing I had a 7:30 tee time. I could get up and play right away," she said, indicating her focus is definitely on this tournament. "That (Open) is too far away," she said.
Neff had a bogey-5 on No. 14, one of the easiest holes on the course. Otherwise she struck the ball consistently, she said.
"You can't win it the first day, but you certainly can take yourself out of it," she said.
Massey is a long way from her home Down Under, but was excited after playing so well "on probably one of the best courses" on the tour. "I hit the fairways and I made the putts," she said. "I found the widest part (of the fairway) and go from there."
The wind, which picked up considerably mid-afternoon to about 20-25 mph from the west, was not a big factor because it is usually windy in Australia.
She drained a 22-foot uphill birdie putt on the first hole to get positive vibes out of the gate. "This golf course is spectacular," she said.
Kueny, who arrived Wednesday night after finishing fourth in her title defense at the Michigan Women's Open earlier that day, was happy with what she termed "a very solid round today.
"I just stayed patient. That will be the key this weekend on a tough course. The wind was the issue today. It is tough to get it close when it is this windy."
Kueny said she knew her title defense was over after a bad opening round Monday at Weldon Township. She said getting her first professional win last year, the week after the initial Sweetgrass tournament, was special because it came in her home state.
"It gave me confidence to know that I can win at this level," she said.
Elizabeth, who played Sweetgrass last month on a promotional visit for Symetra, birdied the final hole after 17 straight pars.
"I hit everything pretty much where I looked," she said. "I left myself four-five good putts. I had left to right putts but I didn't play enough break. The pin placements were really difficult."
The greens were also slick, with course superintendent John Holberton guessing they were about 12 on the stimp meter at midday after starting the day at 11, when the grass was damp.
Hannah had three birdies and two bogies while hitting all 14 fairways. "I hit the ball really well," she said. "I left quite a few putts short."
She was in Hilton Head Island last week serving as bridesmaid at a friend's wedding. "This is my fifth straight week on the road. Maybe I'm catching a second wind," she said.