England’s Georgia Hall fired a five under par 67 in warm and sunny conditions at Samanah Golf Club on Wednesday to take the first round lead in the Ladies European Tour’s 90-hole Lalla Aicha Tour School Final Qualifier in Marrakech, Morocco.
The 18-year-old professional golfer from Bournemouth in Dorset ended the day one stroke ahead of Spain’s Virginia Espejo, who was playing on the nearby Al Maaden course.
English amateur Emma Goddard, who played the back nine at Al Maaden in 30 strokes, was one of five players on three under par along with Danish amateur Nanna Madsen and Swiss professional Anais Maggetti, who also played their first round at Al Maaden and Sweden’s Louise Stahle and Frenchwoman Astrid Vayson de Pradenne, who both played on the Samanah course.
“I played really well today. The front nine, I didn’t play a shot wrong and the putting was really, really good. The back nine I played the long game about the same, just didn’t hole as many,” said Hall, who birdied the second, third, fifth, seventh and ninth holes to turn in 31. She picked up her sixth birdie of the day on the 15th hole, but then dropped a shot on the long par-4 18th for a back nine of level par 36.
Hall has been gaining experience this year since turning professional in July, just after finishing 29th at the Ricoh Women’s British Open and she has lofty goals.
She added: “Obviously to get the card is the main thing, but to finish as low as I can, I want to try and win it. I think if I can keep my mentality to try and win it, then I don’t have to think about top 30. It’s a marathon this week.”
There are 120 players competing for Ladies European Tour membership for the 2015 season. Competitors will play two rounds on each course, before the cut to the leading 60 players and ties after 72 holes. The final round will be played on the Samanah Golf Course on December 21. After the final round the top 30 players and ties will be eligible for Membership in Category 8a while those who have made the cut in positions 31 and below will be eligible for Membership in Category 9b. Players who fail to make the 72-hole cut will be eligible for Membership in Category 12a.
Espejo feels she has a strong chance of success in Marrakech, where she finished tied seventh at last year’s Lalla Aicha Tour School, as the courses are ideally set up for her game, with her prodigious length off the tee. After hitting six birdies against two bogeys on day one, the 25-year-old from Madrid said: “Because of distance I am able to hit all of the par five greens in two apart from 16, where I hit a really good 3-wood and I was still 20 metres from the green. The rest I could reach so I took advantage of that and the clubs that I was hitting in were very short.
“I normally hit around 260-270 yards. The longest shot into a green I had was a 6-iron, everything else was a nine-iron, wedge or sand wedge. I’m not going to miss the green from 80 yards.
“I’m very long but what I struggle with the most is like in tennis: serving, the first shot. This course sets up well that I am able to miss. When I am able to miss, I am more fluid with it and hit it way straighter. I’m loose, because I know I can hit it.
“I’m going to hit it as hard as I can and as far as I can. If I’m going to lose it, I’m going to lose it so far I don’t have to look for it. I just tee it up really high and kill it every time and then have a really short club.”
While Espejo was smashing her drives at Al Maaden, Goddard was using her iron-play strength to hit close to the pins. The 23-year-old amateur from Liverpool was four over par after six holes, but birdied the seventh before carding six more birdies coming home for a back nine total of 30 strokes.
“I realised what someone had said to me: ‘play hole by hole and shot by shot,’ and from there I holed a few putts,” said the 2007 Faldo Series champion from Royal Liverpool Golf Club.
“This will be the best I’ve played in a special event. The back nine was probably the best all round golf I’ve ever played.
“My main objective was just to make the cut and then see how high I could finish. From there I’ll decide whether or not to turn pro.”