Minjee Lee – She might not have looked happy but she had every reason to be – photo Harry How Getty

Minjee Lee has made a fine start to female golf’s opening major of the year, the newly named Chevron Championship at Mission Hills in Rancho Mirage in California.

Lee’s opening round of 66 has her in a share of the lead with one of the game’s brightest young prospects Jennifer Kupcho.

Lee won her first major at the Evian Championship last year, but she is determined to build on that milestone.

“I know I have one under my belt, but I do want a little bit more, she said after her round today. “So, yeah, I just think I have a little bit more belief in myself and my game so I can be a little bit more comfortable just hitting the shots that I choose.”

With prizemoney increased from US$3.1 million to US$5 million this year and the prospect of a new venue in Houston, the event has taken on a new stature amongst the majors and a win this week will not only assist the bank balance but the standing of a player in the game.

US based Victorian, Gabi Ruffels, playing in the event because of her top twenty finish in 2021, compiled an afternoon round of 4 under 68 to be tied in 4th with former winner and New Zealander Lydia Ko.

“Yeah, definitely a good round, nice start,” said Ruffels. “I was excited to come back here after last year here. I feel like I’m a local. My parents live 20 minutes away, so, yeah, I love it out here.

Ruffels does not enjoy LPGA Tour status at present and is playing the Futures Tour after missing out on retaining her LPGA Tour card last December. The former winner and runner-up in the US Women’s Amateur Championship is a significant talent and another good week here will assist her in her quest to get back to the big time.

“It was different. “I’ve played the past three years. This is my third year. This is the first year with fans so that birdie on 18, that was pretty cool to have fans cheering and clapping. I haven’t really experienced that before, so it’s cool. And feels like kind of a home event, so it’s, yeah, even more fun.”

Gabi Ruffels – file photo USPGA

Ko, won this event in 2016 and also finished runner-up last year so she knows her way around the Mission Hills layout.

“I played really solid overall,” said the New Zealander. “When I missed a green I was able to make up and down for most parts, and when I did miss a fairway I was able to recover well with the second shot or third shot coming in.

“Overall, I think a lot of positives to take from today. On my back nine there were a couple putts that shoulda, coulda, woulda gone in but didn’t. I feel like that’s the case in any round.

“I know the afternoon is normally breezy and it picked up in on the back nine for us. It wasn’t playing super easy out there. Yeah, I’m happy with the start.

“Obviously, this is our last year here at Mission Hills, so the local fans — I saw a sign that said, We will miss you guys, miss the LPGA. You know, there has been a lot of history here, so we will miss them, too.”

Hannah Green recorded a round of 70 to be tied for 16th, Sarah Kemp a 73 and Su Oh a round of 74.

 

Lydia Ko – LPGA Getty