After the disappointment of losing Hannah Green, Steph Kyriacou and Sarah Kemp to a mix of border restrictions and COVID, the organisers of the WPGA Championship could hardly have asked for a better leaderboard heading to the weekend.
The three remaining LPGA Tour players – Su Oh, Sarah Jane Smith and Karis Davidson – sit second, third and fourth respectively, with newly minted professional Grace Kim out in front at five-under, one shot clear of Oh.
Starting on the 10th alongside Geoff Ogilvy, Kim got off to a bad start with a bogey at the long par-4 before earning the dropped shot back at the short 12th hole and proceeding to add three more birdies to her card for a round of 68 (-3) to take up pole position in the race to be the first ever winner of the Karrie Webb Cup in the calmer morning conditions.
“It was alright, it was definitely better than the wind hitting up on you,” Kim said of the weather on Friday morning. “It was definitely a lot calmer out there in the morning. We did get a bit of rain, but in the end it was quite all right. The pins were a bit tough but in the end as well, it was fine.”
Believing she left a few shots out on the course despite holding the lead on her own at Royal Queensland, Kim headed straight for the putting green to put in some work on her stroke before she goes head-to-head with Oh and Smith over the weekend. Despite the unusual situation of not actually playing with her closest competitors.
RIGHT: Sarah Jane Smith showed significant improvement on day two at Royal Queensland to sit two back of Kim. PHOTO: PGA Tour of Australasia.
Given the WPGA Championship is running concurrently with the men’s PGA Championship, tournament officials have decided to continue with the formula off two men and one women in each group over the weekend. A decision that Oh was surprised to learn of after her one-over round of 72.
“I would kind of think it would make sense to play together. I’m not sure. As much as I like playing with the boys, it’s a different trophy,” Oh said. “If we’re playing for the same thing, I assume we would play just one group, but since it’s two different trophies, two different tournaments at the same venue – which is great – but yeah, I just thought we might be paired together, but that’s okay.”
Believing the sizeable crowds that have turned out over the first two days despite the January heat in Brisbane are expected to increase over the weekend, Oh is certain the cheers and roars, as well as numerous leaderboards, will help her keep track of Kim and Smith for that matter as she mounts her challenge.
Similarly headed for the putting green after her afternoon round with Mike Clayton happily running his eye over her practice to offer some advice, Oh was satisfied with her ability to hang in on Friday despite not having her best game.
“I think it could have blown up a lot today, just haven’t really played in the afternoon. It was as windy yesterday morning but I think the greens were holding a little bit better perhaps,’ Oh said. “It wasn’t as gusty. The wind direction changed from yesterday and today was a lot of cross winds.
“It’s grainy on the fairways as well, so if we just kind of don’t catch it 100 percent right you just don’t quite get that same height that you want, then your yardages are all over the place and you have to be so precise here. Hopefully I’ll get it a bit better in the next two days.”
Someone who was better than her previous day’s work was Smith, who sits a shot back of Oh after a 68 that improved on her round one score by three.
“I was happy with that,” Smith said after her round. “It felt like I kind of wasted a couple on the easier holes. I kind of birdied some of the hard ones. But I was really happy to get away with three-under this afternoon.
“Yesterday I didn’t take advantage of the holes where you can really make birdies out here, so today I did a bit better job of that, so it was nice.”
Although Smith and Oh are both happy with where they sit after 36-holes, and Davidson at one-under is in no way out of the contest, Kim is a rising star of Australian golf. One who seems to find her best golf at the mixed events alongside the men of late, including the recent Western Open at Dubbo and the Sandbelt Invitational where she bested Oh for low woman honours.
The strategy required at Royal Queensland clearly works for Kim, and with some additional knowledge gleaned from the major champion in her group for the first two days of this week, Kim might prove a tough prospect for her more experienced challengers to chase down.
“She doesn't have a weakness, she wasn't showing any nerves – the complete package." - Geoff Ogilvy on Grace Kim.
“I think the biggest lesson – well, I’m still learning for sure – is that just to be calm and collected on the golf course,” Kim said of the early stages of her pro career. “I’ve seen Geoff, he didn’t do too well today and he might not be that happy with himself, but I thought he did really good to be able to just keep it in the game and obviously not go too emotional.
“I think towards the end of my amateur career I definitely was a bit too emotional with my shots and yeah, it was so nice to be able to see from, even with his career, he’s still able to just stay in the present, you know, one shot at a time and his short game – wow – I wish I had a short game.”
Kim watching and learning from one of our best modern players shows why she is constantly improving, even while challenging for a title of her own. And although she may not know it, her game is equally impressing some pretty good judges.
“She doesn't have a weakness, she wasn't showing any nerves – the complete package," Ogilvy told AAP of Kim after their two rounds together.
If those nerves remain at bay and Kim’s game continues to show no signs of giving up, that package might just include a first professional win come Sunday.