Amateur Dambaugh shares lead at LPGA Q-School

Amateur Katelyn Dambaugh grabbed a share of the first-round lead Wednesday at LPGA Qualifying School.

Dambaugh, a senior at the University of South Carolina, opened with a 5-under-par 67 in high winds at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla., tying her with Thailand’s Pannarat Thanapolboonyaras, who is making her second trip to Q-School after making it through as a 17-year-old last season. They both played the Jones Course.

Japanese teen sensation Nasa Hataoka, LPGA veteran Jaye Marie Green and South Korea’s Min-G Kim opened with 68s on the Jones course.

“I was just focusing on having fun out there,” Dambaugh told LPGA media after her round. “My coach (Greg Boyette) from home was on the bag, and we were just out there goofing off and having fun like we always do. I’m just trying to take it one shot at a time and not put pressure on myself, and letting the results take care of themselves.”

Dambaugh said her goal coming into this week was to win Symetra Tour status, then defer the status into next summer, so she could finish off her senior year at South Carolina. She might have a tougher choice than that by week’s end. The low 20 players after 90 holes will earn full LPGA status for next year, with players who finish 21st through 45th and ties earning partial status. If Dambaugh is in position to claim LPGA status come Sunday’s finish, she’ll have to declare her intention to turn pro after the round to do so.

The 156-player field will be cut to the low 70 and ties going into the final round. Everyone who makes the cut will receive at least Symetra Tour status.

Hataoka, 17, won the Japan Women’s Open last month, holding off former Rolex world No. 1 Jiyai Shin and two-time major champion In Gee Chun to win the title. She’s the first amateur and the youngest winner of a Japan LPGA major. Green was the medalist at LPGA Q-School three years ago. Kim finished 54th on the Symetra Tour money list as a rookie this year.

“I was really nervous this morning,” Hataoka said through a translator. “I’m really happy to shoot under par.”

England’s Mel Reid, a five-time Ladies European Tour winner and a Solheim Cup veteran, is among eight players who are two shots back. Reid equaled the lowest score on the Hills Course, which played the toughest of the two courses in the first round. Eighteen of the lowest 21 scores Wednesday were posted on the Jones Course, where the scoring average (72.62) was almost three strokes better than the Hills Course.

Reid said she isn’t focusing on winning an LPGA card this week. She hopes a larger goal will get her there.

“If you get to about 20-under, I think you’d get your card, so that’s what we’re trying to get to,” Reid said. “We see it as a tournament, and we’re trying to win it. I know the stakes of top 20, but we’re here to win a tournament, so I’ve got a number in my head, and I’m just going to try my very best to get to that number.”

India’s Aditi Ashok, 18, opened with a 73 on the Jones Course. She’s tied for 52nd. Ashok is coming off back-to-back victories on the LET.

“It was really up and down,” Ashok said. “I didn’t find my rhythm. I was making birdies and then dropping shots, but I made five birdies. So, it wasn’t bad. It’s still OK.”

After winning LPGA Q-School medalist honors three years ago, Green got off to a solid start as a rookie, finishing 58th on the LPGA money list. She slipped to 112th this year, prompting her return to Q-School.

“This year was rough,” Green said. “It’s weird being top 60 and getting into everything, to now having to come back to Q-School. I don’t think everything happens for a reason, but I do believe that this did to help give me some confidence. This first round definitely gives me confidence.”

UCLA’s Bronte Law, winner of the Annika Award as the best player in collegiate golf last season, opened with a 75 on the Hills course.

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