The Symetra Tour is billed as the official “Road to the LPGA Tour.”
That may indeed be the case, but often, that road is filled with multiple lanes — and pot holes — in both directions.
Just ask Nannette Hill, who has already been to the LPGA Tour, but is now looking to get back after several injury-plagued seasons. The 28-year-old native of Pelham Manor and a three-time New York State Junior Girls Amateur champion was one of the big surprises in the opening round of the SEFCU Championship, carding a four-under-par 67 to share fourth place with eight other players Friday at Capital Hills at Albany.
Early leader Min Lee, from Taoyuan County, Tawain, who began the day 19th on the Volvik Race for the Card money list, posted a six-under-par 65, while Brianna Do, of Lakeland, Calif., and Laura Wearn of Charlotte, N.C., both well down the money list at 76th and 161st, respectively, each carded 66s.
Hill, a graduate of Wake Forest, was in the huge group that included Ashley Sholer of Hamilton, Ontario; defending champion Wei-Ling Hsu of Chinese Taipei, who is fourth on the money list; Sara-Maude Junea, from Quebec, who is 11th on the money list; Madison Pressel, from Boca Raton, Fla., who is 25th on the money list and is the younger sister of LPGA star Morgan Pressel; Yuder Cindy Feng, of Chang De, China, who is third on the money list; and Jennie Lee, of Henderson, Nev., who is 16th on the money list.
Also tied with 67 were Marissa Steen, from Westchester, Ohio, who is second on the money list; and Emily Talley of Napa, Calif.
Jackie Stoelting, the daughter of Niskayuna native Ed Barenborg and the winner of “Big Break Florida,” shot an even-par 71.
Hill spent parts of three seasons on the LPGA Tour, but was battling elbow injuries that eventually required three different surgeries.
“Those surgeries really set me back. It was a really stressful time,” she said. “The elbow didn’t hurt that much while I played, but it hurt a lot after. When I played golf in school, I also had elbow issues, but I was able to cope, because we didn’t play that often. When I was on the LPGA Tour, you are either playing or practicing every day.
“I’m pain-free now,” she said.” And I’m in a much better place for life and golf. I have good friends, a family and a good relationship. I’m happy off the course, and I feel good about myself.”
Hill, who has one victory, two top-10s and career earnings of just $38,950 on the Symetra Tour, started out slowly with a pair of up-and-down pars on her first two holes of the back nine, but then she ran into big trouble on her third hole, No. 12, losing a ball, which resulted in a double bogey.
“I’ve been there before. From experience, I knew I could come back. I just had to reel myself back in,” she said.
Hill bounced back with six birdies and now, after her first round in the 60s all season, is ready to contend the rest of the way.
Lee had the best round on a day loaded with great scoring. She needed only 25 putts in her best putting round of the season and started her round with three straight birdies.
Wern, a Symetra Tour rookie, holed out with an 8-iron from 145 yards for eagle on the 17th hole to post her best round of the year.
Do, who made her first LPGA cut at last week’s Marathon Classic, hit 16 of 18 greens and connected for five birdies without a bogey.
“I definitely gained some confidence by making the cut in that LPGA tournament,” she said. “Also, I really like this course, and I know it well. This is my third year playing on the Symetra Tour and my third year here.”
Steen, like Hill a member of that mammoth jogjam with a 67, also made the cut at last week’s LPGA event.
“I’m definitely confident this week after playing with the best players in the world last week up in the LPGA,” she said.
Steen, who has two wins and $53,896 in earnings on the Symetra Tour this year, started a bit slowly, but five consecutive birdies from the seventh through the 11th holes turned her game around.
“That’s the most birdies I’ve ever had in a row,” she said. “I’ll take a 67, but it’s early. I just hope I can keep it going.”
The 144-player field continues play this morning with the morning groups switching to the afternoon and the afternoon groups moving to the morning block. There will be a cut for Sunday’s final round in the $100,000 event, which has a top prize of $15,000.