World Sand Greens: Elmay Leads The Way at Walcha

A pro-am masterclass in sand green smoothing has helped Elmay Viking to establish a two-stroke lead on day one of the Women’s World Sand Greens Championship Powered by Origin Energy.

The 59-player field were greeted by cold and blustery conditions at Walcha Golf Club on Wednesday as they tried to come to terms with a style of golf many had never played before.

Viking had never played a sand greens course before receiving a late call-up to the pro-am field, where she had the fortune to be paired with two members and the course superintendent, Mark Hogan.

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In addition to honing her bump-and-run game, Viking was instructed on how to best smooth the path to the hole, key in rolling in five birdies in her round of 4-under 67.

There are seven nationalities represented in the top 11 after Round 1, New Zealand’s Wenyung Keh (69) outright second followed by Thailand’s Saraporn Chamchoi (70), Indonesia’s Holly Victoria Halim (70) and Aussie pair Sarah Yamaki Branch (70) and Amy Walsh (70).

Proudly representing her Cook Islands family, Viking has quickly adopted a methodology to make her putts as predictable as possible on an otherwise uncertain surface.

“The guy said to think of something that you want to try and smooth out. I was like, pancake? Yeah, flatten it like a pancake,” Viking said.

“So that’s what I did. Just try to go low and flatten instead of standing tall and just walking through because it will leave a bit of a bumpy line.

“That’s what I learned yesterday, and it worked out really well.”

Now based in Brisbane after moving out from the Cook Islands at the age of 13, Viking began her round with three straight pars before peeling off four birdies on the trot from the par-4 fourth.

She chipped in from just off the green for her birdie on four and then rode that momentum to race out to 4-under through just seven holes.

A birdie at the par-5 15th got her to 5-under and a three-stroke advantage only to make her lone bogey of the day on the final hole.

Chamchoi and Yamaki Branch both made exceptional par saves on the par-3 18th to stay within three of the lead.

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Rhianna Lewis and Sara Yamaki Branch were simply having fun during their opening round at Walcha

A consistent performer throughout the Golf NSW Regional Qualifying Series, Chamchoi putted in from just off the back of the 18th green while Yamaki Branch got up-and-down from behind the green after her tee shot landed on the front of the green and careened through the back.

“I decided to hit shorter, before the green, about five or 10 yards and hit it low. I want the ball to roll and run onto the green,” Chamchoi said of her sand-green strategy.

“In the practice round I was thinking about short game and putting and how to make the sand smooth.

“I thought 3-over or 4-over would be fine, but I made a lot of birdies on the front nine.”

Yamaki Branch is seeking to complete the rare Pro-Am/Championship double after guiding her team to a win on Tuesday.

The Gold Coaster surged into contention when she backed up a birdie on 14 with an eagle at the par-5 15th, holing a 20-footer to get into red figures.

“I’m just feeling it out,” Yamaki Branch said of her approach.

“I’m really not thinking that much. There’s a few 58-degree wedges that I hit, there were a few 8-irons that I rolled on. Just felt right.

“You can’t really over-analyse. It just worked.”

Joint winner of last week’s Australian Women’s Classic, Perth’s Jess Whitting is at even par after a round of 71, Thai duo Cholcheva Wongras and Tunrada Piddon tied with Lydia Hall of Wales at 1-over par.

The second round will commence at 8:37am AEST Thursday morning with the final group to tee off at 11:35am.

The final round will be broadcast live on 7Plus from 11:30am-4:30pm.

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