Rising Sydney star Stephanie Kyriacou has revelled in her first experience mixing it with the men at The Players Series Sydney, shooting an opening round of eight-under 63 to take a one-stroke lead at Bonnie Doon Golf Club.
A member of both the nearby The Lakes Golf Club and St Michael’s Golf Club, Kyriacou pitted her skills against male pros in friendly matches prior to joining the Ladies European Tour last year, that preparation leading to five top-10 finishes and LET Rookie of the Year honours.
Playing alongside the highly-touted Elvis Smylie (68) in his professional debut, Kyriacou bounced back from a bogey at her opening hole to reel off eight birdies and an eagle at the par-5 9th to end the day one clear of Victorians Matthew Griffin and Peter Wilson and Queensland’s Shae Wools-Cobb who all shot 64.
Taking two months off following her four-month stint on the LET late last year, Kyriacou wasn’t ready to return at The Players Series event at Rosebud Country Club in January but underlined her immense talent with a sparkling display on day one at Bonnie Doon.
“I hadn’t practiced until the week of the event so I just didn’t feel ready. Thinking about it now, it wouldn’t have been a bad thing if I did play,” said Kyriacou, who had a gallery of family and friends watching her play on Thursday.
“I heard that the girls’ tees were pretty far forward (at Rosebud) and this week they have definitely tried to make them a bit fairer. I think it’s good because when you beat the boys you can kind of give it to them. I think it’s great.
“On the par-3s it was pretty much the same but on most of the holes that I hit my driver to wherever they hit it, they’re hitting an 8-iron in and I’m hitting 6-iron.
“On the last hole Elvis hit driver, 7-iron to just short of pin high and I hit driver, 3-wood.”
Five under through 13 holes, Kyriacou was jostling for top spot with a mix of veterans and rising stars until a birdie at the par-4 8th and eagle at the last propelled her to the top of the leaderboard.
“I hit a really, really good drive straight down the middle and then I had just over 200 to the pin,” said the 20-year-old.
“It was a little bit into the wind off the left and I just felt really good over the ball and hit the best 3-wood of my life to about four foot and then holed it.”
Frustrated by inconsistent putting for the first three weeks of the Victorian swing earlier in the year, Griffin made a slight adjustment prior to the final round of the Moonah Links PGA Classic, his Sunday 66 bettered only by eventual champion Bryden Macpherson.
“I heard that the girls’ tees were pretty far forward (at Rosebud) and this week they have definitely tried to make them a bit fairer. I think it’s good because when you beat the boys you can kind of give it to them." – Steph Kyriacou
A 15-footer for birdie at the par-4 5th was the only putt of significance on Thursday as he assembled a relatively stress-free 7-under 64.
“I just had to play so well tee to green to have a decent score over those weeks,” said Griffin.
“Even starting today, once I rolled in a couple early you relax a bit with the putter and holed a few through the middle stages.”
Perfect conditions greeted the morning field on Thursday with the wind strengthening later in the round. That gusty wind enhanced the challenge for those players in the afternoon wave but Victorian Matias Sanchez and New South Welshman Andrew Evans both posted six-under 65s in their opening rounds.
For Sanchez, that score matched his opening round at The Players Series Victoria and he hopes to continue his professional progression by following it up with another good round on Friday.
“Shooting that round at Rosebud was great but unfortunately didn’t follow it up for the next couple of days,” said Sanchez, who holed a bunker shot at the par-3 11th on his way to a back nine of five-under 29 on Thursday.
“I feel like my game’s there and if everything lines up it’s a pretty stress-free round. The game’s going in the right direction, I’ve just got to do it for three more days.”
Winner of the Australian Amateur in 2017 where he defeated Min Woo Lee in the 36-hole final and tied for 15th at the 2017 Australian Open, Sanchez concedes that he has to remain patient as he looks to take the next step in his professional career.
“I do sometimes think I should be ahead of where I am but then again, we didn’t really play at all last year,” said Sanchez, who spent most of 2020 working in the pro shop at the Sandhurst Club.
“My coach Tim Wendell and I have talked a lot the last few weeks on the phone. At one event I was a bit shitty because I just didn’t perform to my ability and he said to me, ‘Why are you in such a rush? You’re out there learning.’
“We’re each on our own journey so take it as it comes. Even though it’s pretty hard to swallow some bad golf it’s just another learning curve.
“I’m happy where I’m going and if it takes me x amount of years compared to what everyone else is doing, that’s fine.”
Level with Sanchez and Evans in a tie for fifth at six under are Blake Collyer and Blake Windred with recently-turned professional Jack Thompson, Deyen Lawson, Dimi Papadatos, Brett Rankin, Michael Wright and Simon Hawkes all at five under in a tie for ninth.
Amateur Grace Kim is the next best female in the field behind Kyriacou at four under with South Coast amateur Kelsey Bennett at three under and LPGA Tour player Su Oh two under.
The second round of The Players Series Sydney presented by Cisco Webex commenced today at 7.30am AEDT with the final two rounds to be broadcast live on Fox Sports and Kayo on Saturday and Sunday.