June Song began her round at St Michael’s today with a bogey, and courtesy of a pulled drive into the trees at the 18th, dropped shot. But in between, the young woman from Avondale was relentless in seizing the lead in the women’s section of the Australian Amateur today in Sydney.
Song, 20, was overdue for a vintage performance even by her own admission.
She spent part of 2022 studying on a scholarship at Iowa State University in the United States, homesick and playing below the level that made her the 2017 New South Wales junior champion and a regular member of her state’s High Performance teams.
She returned home and has started 2023 with a new mindset that will likely take her back to the US, and a white-hot putter in her hands, at least by today’s evidence.
In picture-perfect morning conditions at St Michael’s, Song rolled in nine birdies in between the book-end bogeys to shoot 67, 6-under par, and take the outright lead.
She is two shots ahead of a cluster of players at 4-under par including Japanese stars Mamika Shinchi, Mizuki Hashimoto and last week’s Australian Master Of The Amateurs champion Yuna Araki as well as 14-year-old Korean wunderkind Soomin Oh. The Australian’s Annika Rathbone and Kiwi Amy Im also are at 4-under and in contention.
A couple of other Australians are in the mix after opening with 70s — South Australians Amelia Whinney and Matilda Miels – with different pars, St Michael’s being a 73 for women and New South Wales (par 73) to be accounted for when everyone alternates courses on Wednesday.
The quality of the internationals in the women’s field may have had observers feeling sceptical about Australian chances this week. Song, for one, had something to say about that.
“It was really gettable out there,” she said after her round. “I made a few mistakes that I wasn’t really happy about, but I made sure to keep my cool and keep it going.”
Her putter was the key, as was her knowledge of the course, one of her favourites. “That’s really the best I’ve putted in a long time. It just feels really good to shoot a good score. I’ve bene struggling a bit, at that over-par mark. And it’s Mum’s birthday so it’s nice to have a good round!
“Honestly I kind of just wanted to relax this week, didn’t want much expectation on myself. Like I said, I’ve been struggling for a bit, just wanted to make sure I could prove to myself that I’m still in it and still can play.”
Last year’s runner-up Justice Bosio from Queensland opened nicely with a 2-under 71 in the slightly more difficult afternoon winds, and Karrie Webb Scholarship holder Caitlin Peirce from South Australia opened with a 75, both at St Michael’s.
World No. 3 ranked Saki Baba opened with a 1-over 72 and the defending champion, New Zealander Fiona Xu, had a 73, both at St Michael’s, with no irrepairable damage done to their causes.
The players alternate courses tomorrow with Song headed to picturesque New South Wales, down the road, for round two with good conditions expected again.
This time, however, she will have an afternoon tee-time and a potentially tougher challenge.
Birdie Blitz Puts Trio In The Mix
Sadly, there’s no trophy for the low group score of the day, but had there been one, bragging rights would have gone to the Australian Golf Club’s Annika Rathbone, Kiwi Amy Im, and Japanese representative Yuna Araki.
The trio, who recorded matching four-under-par 70’s during round one action at New South Wales Golf Club, agreed the group vibe was excellent.
“We were feeding off one another, that was the main thing.” Rathbone said. “We all played well. Someone would make a birdie, and straight away one of us would match it.”
Im was as effusive as Rathbone about their combined effort.
“It was a whole new experience, we all had so much fun out on the course today.”
Araki was just as thrilled as her playing partners, and despite her limited English, she enjoyed the day just as much as they did.
“The last nine holes, I made four birdies, the wind was difficult, but I found it fun!”