Canada's White makes mark in Mirabel

Tim Wharnsby writes that former ringette player Adrienne White of Red Deer, Alta., created quite a buzz in Thursday's opening round of the Canadian Women's Open in Mirabel, Que.

Adrienne White hopes one day to be better known for her skill on the golf course rather than her days as a prominent ringette player.

The all-around 27-year-old athlete from Red Deer, Alta., certainly made a splash in the soggy conditions at the opening round of the 2011 CN Canadian Women’s Open on Thursday. She toured the Hillsdale Golf and Country Club layout in fine fashion with a three-under 69 to sit four shots off the lead, held by Japan's Ai Miyazato after her late afternoon seven-under 65, a shot off the course record, that was later matched by Sweden's Pernilla Lindberg.

Sam I am

When Samantha Richdale emerged from the scorer's tent after her sensational opening round at the Hillsdale Golf and Country Club, she was greeted with a hug from Jocelyne Bourassa, the godmother of the Canadian women's golf scene.

Bourassa is the only winner of the CN Canadian Women's Open when she won the inaugural event back in 1973 and would dearly like see another Canadian end the 38-year drought.

Richdale's bogey-free, six-under 66 certainly raised some eyebrows around Hillsdale on Thursday. She will enter the second round with some added pressure, only stroke behind co-leaders Ai Miyazato of Japan and Sweden's Pernilla Lindberg.

"I haven't played that well [in 2011], but I've been working hard and just haven’t seen the results," said Richdale, a 27-year-old from Kelowna, B.C.

Richdale made a trip to see former two-time U.S. PGA champion and noted 69-year-old putting guru Dave Stockton last month. His help was evident in her game in the opening round.

It also didn't hurt to have a friendly face in her gallery. Her older brother Josh, 29, lives in Montreal and spent the afternoon rooting for his younger sibling.

Another familiar face belonged to Richdale's veteran caddy Tom Konopacki. He has been around so long that Richdale refused to reveal his age. But those who follow golf may recognize him as the winning caddy on Meena Lee's bag when she captured this event at Halifax’s Glen Arbour layout in 2005.

"I will tell you that his birthday is coming up," said Richdale, whose lone professional victory was a tournament in Taiwan in Jan. 2010.

Konopacki and Richdale began working together about a year ago. She remarked that there is a comfort level with the veteran caddy by her side.

"He's been great for me," Richdale said. "He's very calm, very collected.

"I love being out there with him. We have a lot of great conversation and he knows when to calm me down.

"It's very comfortable. We read putts well together, pick out targets well together."

Richdale knocked in two birdies in her final three holes to make her late-day move up the leader board. She also had to deal with a brief, but heavy rain storm early in her round.

"It was pretty quick," she said. "Kind of came in and I thought we were going to get pulled off the course, but it only lasted a hole. It wasn’t that bad."

Wharnsby in Mirabel

The top Canadian is Samantha Richdale of Kelowna, B.C. She is one shot behind the co-leaders after a sizzling bogey-free 66, in which she birdied two of her final three holes. Defending champion Michelle Wie is in a group at five-under 65.

This is White's eighth start on the LPGA Tour and only second of the season. She has conditional status on the LPGA Tour, so White spends most of her time on the LPGA Futures Tour, where she has one Top 10 in nine events in 2011.

"It's been quite a roller-coaster," said White, who finished with back-to-back birdies with her parents watching at Hillsdale. "It hasn't gone as well as I've wanted it to go."

Although, White failed to make the 36-hole cut last week in Portland, Ore., it was important for her to get two rounds of experience back on the LPGA Tour before her return trip home for this week's Canadian Women’s Open.

"Courses here are set up more difficult than on the Futures Tour and the green speed is quicker, so it was really nice to get out there into the environment and used to it," she said.

White did not start playing golf until she was 14 and played her first competitive tournament a year later. She had a passion for ringette, but she also played baseball and golf in the summer to bridge the gap between her winters.

Eventually, golf became the best path to further her athletic endeavours after high school. She accepted a scholarship to the University of Louisville and during her time there won back-to-back Alberta Amateur titles in 2004 and 2005.

"I loved [ringette]," said White, who played on the Alberta provincial team at the 2003 Canada Winter Games in New Brunswick.

"It was always my sport growing up. Golf connected ringette seasons for me.

"But I loved it. I miss it a lot."

Now White fills her winter sports passion with hockey. She attends several Phoenix Coyotes games a season because she lives nearby and, of course, there always is her beloved junior team, the Red Deer Rebels to follow.

Her father was an off-ice official for the Rebels and a friend of Rebels owner and Calgary Flames coach Brent Sutter. The White family has even billeted a few Rebels in the past, including former Edmonton Oilers prospect Doug Lynch, who last season played in Austria for Salzberg Red Bull.

While some of the current top LPGA players were competing on the tour at age 14, White knows her road to success will require patience.

"I picked up the game pretty quick, but I've been going at my own pace," said White, who is competing at Hillsdale on a sponsor‘s exemption.

"Experience is such a big thing out here. I have a lot to learn yet, but I'm starting to build that foundation."

A player like the 21-year-old Wie has that foundation. She’s been in the spotlight for almost a decade because of her prowess with a golf club and received her first gig on the LPGA Tour at age 15.

She has yet to dedicate herself full time to professional golf because of the importance she has placed on her education at Stanford University. A recent switch to a long putter has given her better results on the green, which was exhibited with a pair of successful monstrous putts on her back nine that included four birdies.

You can follow Tim Wharnsby from the Canadian Women's Open on twitter @WharnsCBCSPORTS