Swedish schoolgirl Julia Engström fired a seven-under-par 64 over the Chateaux Course at Golf du Médoc on Thursday morning to take a one stroke lead in the Lacoste Ladies Open de France.
She sits one clear of South African Nicole Garcia, who equalled the Ladies European Tour’s all-time record with seven consecutive birdies from the fifth to the 11th holes.
Fellow Swede Lynn Carlsson, Spain’s Silvia Banon and France’s own Anne-Lise Caudal are two strokes further behind in a share of third place.
On a day of mixed weather conditions, Engström, 17, started with a bogey on the first hole but quickly recovered with six birdies and an eagle.
She picked up strokes at the second, fifth, ninth and 10th holes, before sinking an eagle putt from eight metres on the tricky par-5 14th and closed with further gains on the 16th and 18th.
“I played very solid. I hit my approach shots pretty close and took advantage of the par fives and managed to roll in some putts,” said the LET’s leading rookie professional, who still has another year of high school studies to complete, alongside her burgeoning golf career.
She added: “I had good ball striking today and made some good putts. I think that’s the key, to read the greens correctly and put yourself in a good position both from the tee and after your approach shot.”
Engström created a piece of golf history when, at 15, she became the youngest player to win the British Open Amateur Championship at the Dundonald Links in Ayrshire two years ago.
That confirmed her as one of golf’s rising stars, having been introduced to the sport by her parents as a two-year-old and presented with her first set of clubs two years later.
Her mother Jeanette, who is also her caddie on tour, was a tennis professional and Julia was an accomplished player herself growing up, but she chose golf at 12 and was a scratch golfer by the age of 13.
She said: “I think it’s because I had so many friends playing golf. The town that I am from, Halmstad, it’s a golf city, where everyone plays and we had such good junior golf activity at my club as well.”
Engström, who won a bronze medal in the recent European Mixed Team Golf Championships at Gleneagles, has played at Ringenäs Golf Club since the age of seven, the same home club as Carlsson and it seems that the Swedes on the LET this year are motivating each other.
Carlsson’s roommates Jessica Karlsson and Cajsa Persson, who won a gold medal at the European Team Championships, are part of a group on three-under-par that includes Lydia Hall, Jade Schaeffer-Calmels, Luna Sobron and the 2015 champion Céline Herbin.
Karlsson said: “I think we are inspiring each other and having fun off the course together.”
Persson added: “It gives you good momentum and confidence having played well and you just try to keep that flowing.”
Garcia seemed to be in the flow midway through her round as she strung together seven birdies and added another at the 18th, after dropping shots at the second and fourth holes.
She said: “I went to tap my short putt in on the par five and got a horseshoe, so I thought, ‘Oh, this is going to be a good day.’ Then it started pouring down with rain, so I didn’t expect to get a few birdies and then carry it on. I got seven in a row, which is the longest birdie run that I’ve had, and it felt good. I was hitting my irons well and I wasn’t leaving myself long putts. On the next hole, I had a 10 footer for an eighth birdie and it almost went in, so I was a little bit disappointed, but it was still a great score.”
Caudal, a two-time winner on the LET, at the 2008 Portugal Open and 2012 German Open, was thrilled with her best round in two years.
She said: “I’m very happy with my day today. It’s been a long time since I shot four-under in a tournament. On my front nine I shot four-under and it was very difficult because it was rainy and windy, so I’m very happy. I hit the ball well on the front nine and struggled with my driver on the back nine which made the course a bit longer. I won a tournament here and I played the course a lot when I was younger, so I’ve got great memories here.”
The second round commences at 8.45am local time on Friday and there will be a 36-hole cut to the top 60 professionals and those tied.
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Photo: Rémy Gros