Stark, Meechai take 1st-round lead at LPGA Shanghai in tour’s return to China after pandemic

by Joanne Miller

Maja Stark and Wichanee Meechai made an impressive start to the LPGA Shanghai event by shooting 6-under 66 each, giving them a two-stroke lead after the first round. This tournament marks the tour’s return to China after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the 2020 season.

Stark, one of three rookies on the European team that recently tied the Americans to retain the Solheim Cup, got off to a blazing start with birdies on four of her first six holes. She displayed great accuracy, hitting 11 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens, and relied on solid putting to make 28 putts. Stark expressed her confidence after playing in the Solheim Cup, saying, “Playing the Solheim Cup gave me so much confidence. A whole continent is looking for you to play well.”

Meechai, a debutant in the event, showcased her familiarity with the Qizhong Garden Golf Club course, having previously played on it during a Chinese tour and a Ladies European Tour event. Despite a first-hole bogey, Meechai finished strongly with a pair of birdies. Reflecting on her experience, she humorously said, “I feel like Chinese now because I played on the China Tour for three years and you have to speak Chinese…and it feels like home.”

Some other notable performances in the tournament’s opening round came from Americans Danielle Kang, Lauren Coughlin, and Alison Lee, as well as Chinese players Cai Danlin and Li Shuying. They all shot a solid 68 and find themselves in a 10-way tie for third.

Kang, who aims to secure her third consecutive victory in Shanghai after winning in 2018 and 2019, had a strong start with three birdies on her first eight holes. She emphasized the importance of accurate ball striking around the tricky greens, and her caddie played a crucial role in keeping her focused and in the present moment.

The LPGA Shanghai event features a competitive field representing 21 countries, including the top two players in the women’s world rankings, Lilia Vu and Women’s PGA champion Ruoning Yin. Both players had decent rounds, with Vu shooting a 72 and Yin carding a 71.

Lydia Ko, the South Korean-born New Zealander, had a slower start to the tournament with a 74.

The tournament features a no-cut format with a field of 81 players, including 62 from the LPGA Tour, 15 from the China Ladies PGA, and four sponsor exemptions. This event marks the beginning of a four-tournament Asia swing, with subsequent stops in South Korea, Malaysia, and Japan.

The LPGA Shanghai event promises more exciting golf over the coming days as players from around the world compete on the picturesque Qizhong Garden Golf Club course. Golf enthusiasts can follow the action and stay updated through the AP golf news hub.

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