Cara Gorlei shrugged off any suggestions of pressure on a wet and windy opening day of the Standard Bank South Africa Women’s Masters to surge into the first round lead at San Lameer Country Club.
With rain beating down intermittently on the coastal layout on Wednesday, the 24-year-old Milnerton rookie made the perfect start to her fourth event, reeling in a trio of birdies to set the tone for a flawless round and she set the early mark with a three-under-par 69.
Her target was matched by Scotland’s Jane Turner, who got it to four-under through 12 holes, but a bogey at the par five 13th and a double-bogey finish for a round of 71 left Gorlei with a two-stroke advantage and some welcome breathing room.
A former star of South African amateur golf, Gorlei spent four years on a golf scholarship at the University of Arkansas, where she represented the Arkansas Razorbacks women’s golf team. It was during this stretch that she also won the prestigious South African Women’s Amateur Championship.
After graduating with a major in kinesiology last June, the South African closed the book on a glittering amateur career and signed up for golf’s most gruelling test. She was the only South African to make the first cut at the First Stage of the LPGA Qualifying School, but a round of 79 in the final round put paid to her campaign.
“I competed in some of the Sunshine Ladies Tour events as an amateur, so I knew this would be good way to start my career before I head back to the States to compete on the Women’s All Pro Tour,” said Gorlei.
With many twists and turns still to come in this enthralling Sunshine Ladies Tour season, Gorlei was pleased to have laid down an early marker in her fourth start.
“Coming into the season, my expectations were unrealistically high, especially starting the Cape Town Ladies Open in my back yard. Nerves got the better of me, but as we have eased into the season, I’ve started to find my game a bit more. I’m starting to feel more comfortable and enjoying it a lot more.
“There is still of lot of golf to play, but a good finish this week could prove significant towards the end of the season. I’m pleased to be in an attacking position at last.”
Buoyed by a top 12 finish in the Dimension Data Ladies Pro-Am on Sunday, Gorlei birdied the par four fifth and on both par threes – the 14th and 16th – while keeping her round ticking over with pars.
“With all the rain, I knew the course would be playing long. A lot of the holes were gettable, though, and I hit a lot of 4-irons and 3-woods to keep it in play. The strategy was just to hit fairways and greens and to pick up some birdies along the way.
“I was just playing good golf and making good putts. I hit a lot of fairways and I didn’t miss many greens, maybe one or two, but marginally and I managed make a lot of pars.”
Despite the unfortunate finish, Turner was in good spirits and happy to be just two shots back.
“I played really good golf and only made two mistakes that cost me three shots. I missed just three greens in regulation and I made four birdies, which I was really happy about,” Turner said.
“It was very, very wet out there and everyone was like ‘you should be used to this, coming from Scotland’. I’m sorry, but when a three-club wind blows or it’s pouring with rain, I stay indoors.
“The greens are very different to the courses we’ve played so far, but I handled it well. It always helps when you make the first few putts; that gave me a bit of confidence and I felt I could be a little more aggressive with the putter. I’m not too far off and hopefully the weather improves.”
Seasoned campaigner Kim Williams birdied the par four closing hole to finish three strokes adrift, while Monique Smit and Jessica Dreesbeimdieke from Namibia both finished on one-over-par 73.
Williams lauded the green staff at San Lameer for getting the course playable after a deluge forced the organisers to suspend the Pro-Am on Tuesday.
“It really has been bucketing down, but the staff have done an amazing job to get us on the course,” said the multiple Sunshine Ladies Tour winner. “I had to change the way I usually play the course. I couldn’t hit the big shots I would normally hit around here. I had to dial it back a little and I’m chuffed with the result. I’m just a few shots off with two rounds to go and that’s a good place to be.”
First Round Scores
(All competitors RSA unless otherwise stated and amateurs are indicated AMA)
69 – Cara Gorlei
71 – Jane Turner (SCO)
72 – Kim Williams
73 – Monique Smit, Jessica Dreesbeimdieke (NAM)
74 – Emie Peronnin (FRA), Bianca Lohbauer AMA, Zethu Myeki
75 – Maria Beautell (ESP), Lauren Taylor (ENG), Julie Berton (FRA)
76 – Woo-Ju Son (KOR), Sharmila Nicollet (IND), Kelsey Nicholas
77 – Rosie Davies (ENG), Michaela Fletcher, Tara Griebenow, Clara Pietri (SUI), Hannah Arnold (USA)
78 – Yolanda Duma, Bonita Bredenhann (NAM), Jordy LaBarbera (USA), Shawnelle de Lange
79 – Kyle Roig (PUR), Christina Gloor (SUI), Leticia Ras-Anderica (GER)
80 – Rachel Drummond (ENG), Francesca Cuturi, Pasqualle Coffa (NED)
81 – Brittney-Fay Berger
83 – Lindi Coetzee, Melissa Eaton
85 – Sunelle von Molendorff
86 – Siviwe Duma
89 – Chiara Contomathios
Photo: Sunshine Ladies Tour rookie Cara Gorlei opened up a two-shot lead in the first round of the Standard Bank SA Women’s Masters at San Lameer Country Club. (Shannon Naidoo)