PITTSFORD — Morgan Pressel believes she suffered a wrist injury last year by hacking out of the rough here at Locust Hill Country Club.
It hampered the rest of her 2012 season, but she took out some revenge on the course Friday during the first round of the rain-delayed Wegmans LPGA Championship.
Pressel closed her opening round with four straight birdies to card a 4-under round of 68. That was good for the morning lead, but she had to settle for a tie for second after South Korean Chella Choi birdied six of her first 10 holes on the way to a round of 5-under 67.
Teeing off in the afternoon wave, Choi had to deal with a nuisance mist for most of her opening round. It hardly showed, however, as she hit all 14 fairways and made just one bogey.
“I hit a really good driver today,” said Choi, a 22-year-old native of Seoul who now makes her home in Jacksonville, Fla. “My goal is just to keep it in the fairway.”
Choi is not a bomber. She averaged only 225 yards off the tee Friday, but showed that accuracy is everything on the 6,534-yard waterlogged layout.
“I had a lot of birdie chances today,” she said.
That’s nothing new for Choi, who came into the tournament ranked ninth on the LPGA Tour with 150 birdies on the season.
While she has yet to break through with a win, she’s knocked on the door a few times. Her best finish came last season in the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic, when she tied for second after losing in a playoff. She took a lead into the final round of the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic last month in Alabama before a final-round 70 left her two shots behind winner Jennifer Johnson in a tie for fourth place.
“I was really upset after Mobile Bay because I had a try at my first win,” she said.
A talk with her father and caddie, Ji Yeon Choi, helped calm her. A retired police officer in their home country, the 54-year-old Ji Yeon has been on his daughter’s bag for six years. He’s vowed to stay there until she records her first victory.
“I want my first win with my father,” she said.
Choi’s compatriot Jiyai Shin matched Pressel at 4-under 68 late in the day with a birdie on the difficult 396-yard, par-4 18th, finishing off a bogey-free round.
Pressel was in the morning wave, and her round really heated up at the 15th hole. She hit a 9-iron to 15 feet and converted a birdie on the par 3, then made another from the same distance at No. 16. She recovered from a “crummy” wedge shot on the par-5 17th by sinking a 20-foot birdie putt, then made a tricky, downhill 6-footer for birdie on the last.
“I was truly trying to lag the putt,” she said. “I mean, the hole got in the way at that point.”
Pressel in 2007 became the youngest player ever on the LPGA Tour to win a major when she was victorious in the Kraft Nabisco Championship as an 18-year-old. She’s gone winless in majors since, and struggled last season with just one top-10 finish after she was hurt in this tournament.
“It started here last year,” she said. “I did not hit the ball very well here last year. I was in the rough a lot, and I truly think that’s what caused it, was just the many, many shots I had to whack out of the knee-high rough here.
“It took a while to really want to play golf again and enjoy playing golf again, and I feel like I’m in a better place.”
Pressel, who got married in January, took most of the winter off. She’s slowly starting to feel better. She switched putters two weeks ago at the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic and needed only 23 putts in the first round Friday.
“It’s allowed me to roll the ball better, and more importantly, feel comfortable over the putts,” she said.
Pressel was also comforted by her grouping Friday, which included good friend and fellow Floridian Brittany Lincicome.
“We certainly thrived off each other out there. She was making birdies and I was making birdies on a course where it didn’t look like many people were,” Pressel said.
Only 15 of the 147 players who teed off Friday managed to break par. Lincicome was one of them, carding a 3-under 67 that could have been better if it weren’t for a bogey on No. 18.
“I was driving the ball really, really well,” Lincicome said. “I knew I was going to hook it all day, and I just played for it and it was going in the middle of the fairway almost every single time. Really, 18 was my only big mistake, I think, of the whole round.”