Lauren Stephenson thought she had hit a good shot out of the rough Thursday late in her first round of the ShopRite LPGA Classic, but she wasn’t quite sure where it ended up.
However, a pretty good clue came as she was walking up to the green at the par-4 14th hole at Seaview Hotel and Golf Club and a Golf Channel camera operator came straight at her.
“That’s a good sign,” she said, realizing she had holed out the shot for an eagle, part of her 8-under-par round of 63 that tied her for the lead with Mi Hyang Lee after the opening 18 holes of the $1.3 million event in Galloway, N.J.
Stephenson, 23, who is in her second LPGA Tour season, also carded eight birdies and two bogeys as she bested her previous career low 18-hole score by three strokes. But the highlight came at the 403-yard 14th, and the pitching wedge she hit from 137 yards out into the cup.
“I was in the rough and I assumed it was going to skip forward,” she said. "I just saw the bounce and I thought it had stopped, and I was happy with that because I was worried it was going to skip through the green.
“So I looked away and [my caddie] was like, ‘I think it went in.’ We had no idea. So I didn’t want to get excited and then it’s over the green. But yeah, I was pretty excited.”
Stephenson, who played college golf at Clemson and Alabama, was Golfweek’s 2018 player of the year.
Lee, 27, a two-time LPGA winner playing her ninth season on the tour, birdied three straight holes from 10 through 12 and had a pair of back-to-back birdie holes in her bogey-free round. Her score was one stroke off her career best of 62 at the 2016 Founders Cup.
“I think it was a really good start for me,” Lee said. “I just want to keep doing my best and I think today everything was good. I didn’t get any bad shots and bad putts so everything was good.”
Stephenson and Lee held a 1-stroke advantage over Ryann O’Toole and Nasa Hataoka. O’Toole birdied her last three holes while Hataoka, the world’s No. 8-ranked player, eagled the par-5 18th during her round.
Jennifer Song was alone in fourth place at 65. Brittany Altomare had a hole-in-one at the 108-yard, par-3 17th hole on her way to a 66 where she was tied with five other players. Defending champion Lexi Thompson led a group of 10 golfers at 67.