Cool temperatures, ranging from 62 to 70 degrees.
Light northerly breezes, 6 to 7mph.
Just another perfect early fall day in southwest Kansas for the first round of the 5th Symetra Tour’s Garden City Charity Classic at Buffalo Dunes Golf Course.
With those ideal conditions, the 132-player field took aim at low scores all day, with Alabaman Janie Jackson (Huntsville) leading the way early with a 7-under-par 65 to grab a one-shot lead over three golfers, including 2016 Classic champion Dana Finkelstein, Demi Rumas of Torrance, Calif., and Stephanie Kono of Honoluli, Hi., all at 6-under 66.
All were part of the morning wave of golfers, who teed off between 8 a.m. and 9:50 a.m., finishing between noon and 2 p.m.
But that group wasn't the only one to go low at the Dunes in the perfect conditions. Afternoon blitz group included Allyssa Farrell, and Nontaya Srisawang, all at 66. One stroke back is Charlotte Thomas and leading money winner Dottie Ardina.
For Jackson, now in her second season on the Tour, it matched her season low, which has occurred three other times, including the final round of last week’s Sious Falls GreatLIFE Challenge.
“It feels nice to play good on the first day,” said Jackson, who had a rock-solid round with 28 putts, hitting 17 of the 18 greens in regulation and finding the fairway on 11 of the 14 driving holes. “You can’t win a tournament on the first day but you can lose it, so I feel good about putting myself in position.”
Jackson, making her second appearance at the Classic, finished tied for 22nd a year ago at 6-over-par, but said that was a catalyst for the rest of her rookie season and into 2018.
“Last year was a struggle for me and when I played here, it was the best finish of the year,” Jackson said. “Today, we lucked out with the wind. We had great weather.”
Jackson said it was a round where every part of her game just seemed to click.
“I missed just one green (made bogey) and 3-putted once (made bogey),” she said. “Otherwise, it was a good round (9 birdies).”
She capped off her stellar play by draining a 25-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole.
Finkelstein, who played the LPGA Tour in 2017, said the familiarity of the Dunes was reignited upon her return this week.
“I thought I putted very well and hit the ball as good as I could, considering I had a few mudballs,” Finkelstein said. “A couple of times I had clumps of mud on the ball, and the shots I hit might have been a little better. But overall it was a good day.”
When she won in 2016, she opened with a 65, so she likes where she’s at after the first round.
“I feel really comfortable on this course, and I drew back from a couple of memories and tried to build on those,” Finkelstein, who sits in the No. 22 slot on the money list, said.
The key, she said, was putting a good game plan together Thursday night, and then executing it to near perfection.
“Last night, we got the pin sheets, so I could see what fairways to be left or right off the tee,” she said after hitting all 14 of them. “I like this position, and I’ve put myself in position for the next couple of days and that’s exciting.”
Runas, currently No. 35 on the Volvik money list, also played sparkling golf, making six birdies against a bogey-free round.
“I was able to make some birdies in the early part of each nine, and that helped me get off to a good start,” Runas said. “It was a pretty good ball-striking round.”
Runas, who had played in the inaugural 2014 Charity Classic, said she was happy to have some good weather this time around.
Then, the temperature hovered in the mid to upper 40s for all three days of the tournament with misty and blustery conditions.
“I was able to take advantage of the holes where I had wedge in my hand,” Runas said. “It’s always nice to get off to a good start, and I’d be lying if I said this is a comfortable place to be.”
She was reflecting on the overall strength and depth of the players now on the Symetra Tour.
“The fields have gotten stronger, the cuts have gotten lower,” Runas said. “I think having played here before, and then out on the LPGA Tour (2015-16-17) is something that I can draw on from experience.”
Notebook: The second round begins at 8 a.m. Saturday with the 66 players who played Friday afternoon comprising the morning field. The afternoon field will begin play at 12:40 p.m. The field will then be cut to the low 60 scores and ties for Sunday’s final round.
The winner will earn a $22,500 payday from the $150,000 total purse.
The Mariah Fund is the presenting sponsor and this year’s charitable group will be the girls golf teams that comprise part of the 22-county area of southwest Kansas served by the Mariah Fund.