By Jason Elmquist
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Georgia resident Oliver Schniederjans found himself in a familiar place after the first day of The PING Invitational at Karsten Creek on Saturday — toward the top of the leaderboard.
Schniederjans, runnerup at last year’s PING Invitational, holds a one-stroke lead in the boys division after shooting a 4-under, 68.
“You’ve got to get off to a great start on this golf course,” Schniederjans said. “It’s going to beat you more than you beat it. Anything under par or around even was going to be good. I happened to get off to a really nice start on the front nine — one of the best nine holes I’ve ever played.”
Schniederjans went out with a 31 on first nine holes, before shooting a 37 on the back nine to give him a one-stroke lead over Jordan Spieth of Dallas and a two-stroke lead over Yi Keun Chang of Diamond Bar, Calif.
But Schniederjans can’t get too comfortable, as the top nine golfers are separated by just five strokes — and among them is last year’s medalist Emiliano Grillo of Bradenton, Fla.
“I’ve pretty much done all I can do so far,” Schniederjans said. “I really want to just stay in contention. That’s really all you can ask, is to have a chance heading into the last round and the last nine holes. I’m off to a good start and I’m just going to go out and play golf and have fun and see what happens.”
It’s a different story in the girls division, however.
After finishing near the bottom of the standings at the PING Invitational a few years ago, Kyung Kim of Chandler, Ariz., has a three-stroke lead after shooting a 67 on the first 18 holes of the three-day tournament — which has Kim a little surprised.
“I feel really good. I just played really well today,” Kim said. “I was kind of surprised, actually, with what I did today. I played here a couple of years ago and haven’t really played well here. I have some pretty bad experiences from here. But it’s kind of cool to have overcome that.”
The girls leader is actually three strokes ahead of Moriya Jutanugarn from Bangkok and four strokes ahead of Jutanugarn’s sister Ariya Jutanugarn, who is ranked No. 4 in the Polo golf rankings. Victoria Tanco of Bradenton, Fla., who is ranked No. 1 in the Polo golf rankings, is currently tied for 17th with a first round score of 79, while Cindy Feng (No. 2 in Polo rankings) of Orlando and Kristen Park (No. 3 in polo rankings) of Buena Park, Calif., are tied in seventh and are seven strokes behind the leader.
Kim, a junior in high school, said the course played out hard for her, but fortunately her approach shots were making for some easy putt attempts.
“The first nine was actually really good for me,” said Kim, who started on the back nine and shot a 31. “I kept sticking it in close and making easy birdies. My approach shots were definitely on. I didn’t really have long putts — at least on the first nine. But once I had them on the second nine, though, I three-putt a couple and kind of lost my feel for it.”
Both of the leaders agreed on one thing from Day 1 of the PING Invite — the pin placement made for some difficult putts throughout the day.
“The pin placements were really hard and it was kind of windy out there so it made it very hard,” Kim said. “I don’t really know how I did well today, I just kind of hit it well.”
Schniederjans added, “The course is always hard. You’ve got to keep it in play off the tee shot and the pins were actually pretty tricky today. The greens were just ridiculously fast rolling down hill.”
There are two lone Oklahomans competing in the PING Invitational, which includes 45 boys and 27 girls from across the nation — and includes several girls golfers from Thailand and one from the Philippines. Taylor Moore from Edmond is currently the top Oklahoman as he is tied for 17th with a first round score of 77, while Charlie Saxon from Tulsa is in 44th place with an opening round 86.