Valdis Thora Jonsdottir fired an opening round of six-under-par 66 on Wednesday to take a three-stroke lead in the season-ending event on the 2017 LET Access Series.
The 27-year-old from Iceland made five birdies, an eagle and just one bogey at Parador de El Saler in Valencia, Spain, to sit three clear of Swede Emma Nilsson in the Santander Golf Tour LETAS El Saler tournament.
One of the flag bearers for golf in Iceland, known as the Land of Fire and Ice, where the weather can be cold, windy and challenging, Jonsdottir had warmed up for the event with a two-week training camp for 76 Icelandic golfers at Novo Sancti Petri in Spain, which proved to be the perfect preparation for the beautiful warm and sunny weather conditions in Valencia, where the temperature is expected to be in the mid-20s centigrade all week.
Her birdie assault began at the tree-lined second and third holes on the Javier Arana designed course and he she then picked up two strokes on the long fifth, after playing her ball to within 10 feet of the flag using her 3-wood. Three more birdies followed at the 10th, 11th and 13th holes, but her ball became plugged in a greenside bunker at the short 17th and after playing out from a difficult downhill lie in the sand, she escaped with a bogey.
“I hit my drives really well so I was never in trouble off the tee. I played the par 5s really well, and made some birdies and an eagle. I messed up the 15th and made a par but my putter was hot. I think I missed one putt under six metres, so that helps,” said Jonsdottir, a Texas State University graduate who racked a creditable career best fourth place finish at this year’s Foxconn Czech Ladies Challenge.
Jonsdottir provides a snapshot of the game’s popularity in Iceland, as manifested by the growing number of golf courses and, like LET Access Series graduate Olafia Kristinsdottir, who now plays on the LET and LPGA, Jonsdottir enjoyed a successful amateur career, winning the Icelandic Championship in 2009, prior to turning professional in 2013.
A rookie professional on the Ladies European Tour, she continued: “A win here would give me a lot of confidence going into the next three weeks on the LET. I’ve been in Spain for two weeks now with both of my coaches and we’ve been working on my putting for two days and my swing for the last 10 days, so I have been getting some good scores and had a round of six-under at Novo Sancti Petri, which is not an easy course.”
Another Nordic player, Nilsson, from Sweden, carded six birdies, against three bogeys to get into the hunt for her third LET Access Series title, having won twice on the circuit in 2014.
She said: “I started to hole some long putts, so that was really fun. In the end, I played really well and stuck them close to the hole. I really like the course and it’s a bit different, because the first nine is in the woods and then the last nine is by the ocean. I think it suits my game because I can use my wedges and that’s one of my strengths.”
While the Northern Europeans fared particularly well on day one, the Spanish players also made their presence felt. María Palacios and Luna Sóbron, who is placed fourth on the LET’s Rookie Rankings, shared third place on two-under-par while Eun Jung Ji Kim had been at three-under-par after 15 holes before she took a 10 on the par-4 16th. From there, she dropped a further stroke on the 18th to sit in a share of 36th position on four-over-par, in a group including the LET Access Series Order of Merit winner Meghan MacLaren.
Although MacLaren is assured of the Order of Merit title, there are five LET cards available this week and the top 15 players on the Ranking following Friday’s ultimate round will progress to the Final Stage of the LET’s Lalla Aicha Tour School in Morocco.