Sandra Changkija leads suspended LPGA Classic in Waterloo
Play officially called off at 4:20 p.m. ET due to threat of lightning
American rookie Sandra Changkija was the surprise clubhouse leader on Thursday after a rain-shortened first round of the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic in Waterloo, Ont.
Play was suspended at 4:20 p.m. (ET) after thunderstorms and heavy downpours blanketed Waterloo Region, and players were informed at 6:30 p.m. that the first round would be completed Friday morning. Seventy-two players were unable to finish the round.
Changkija burned up the 6,354-yard course, under 38 C weather with the humidity earlier in the day, firing an eight-under par 63 to take a three-stroke lead at Grey Silo Golf Course.
China's Shanshan Feng, coming off a win two weeks ago at the Wegman's Championship, and Sweden's Anna Nordqvist — who only completed 13 holes — shot a five-under 66, but they were no match for Changkija.
The remaining players in the top 10 did finish their rounds, with Lacey Agnew, Angela Stanford, Norway's Suzann Pettersen and Sweden's Karin Sjodin in a logjam for fourth at four-under par 67.
Four more players — Americans Katie Futcher, Pat Hurst and Kim Mindy, as well as England's Jodi Ewart — are tied for eighth at three-under par 68.
Changkija, a four-time Division II national player of the year and first team All American at Nova Southeastern University in Florida, started off on the back nine and had six straight pars before catching fire, hitting eight birdies in the final 12 holes.
She said it was just a simple approach that helped her shoot such a low score at the inaugural event.
"Just hitting greens and making good strokes," said Changkija, adding how satisfied she was with her score when making the turn to the front nine.
"I was comfortable with the two-under. [I putted once] the last three birdies. They were kind of long ones. I had the right line, I just had to get it close and it just went in."
Finishing at the top of the leaderboard and in good shape to make it to weekend play is unfamiliar territory for Changjika, who failed to make the cut in five of seven events this season. In the two tournaments where she played into the weekend, she didn't finish higher than 55th.
"My ball striking's been good, you know, for most every tournament I've played in," she said.
"I just missed a few fairways here and there. I've been keeping up with my ball striking and just needed to make some good strokes."
Being the leader after the first round and being consistent through the next three rounds is a tall order, especially for a rookie, but Changkija said she's had a lot of advice from veteran players on the tour, including her "big sister" Beth Bader.
"I'm learning every week. I think I've got like a good handful of players I can always talk to about whatever, whether it's practising or on the course or just how to handle myself each week."
Her mindset going into tomorrow will be as simple as round one.
"Just going to keep doing what I've been doing, hit fairways, hit greens, just make a good stroke."
The top Canadian when play was suspended was Hamilton's Alena Sharp. Playing in front of friends and family, Sharp was at 1-under par through 11 holes when the thunderstorms came.
She had a chance to move up the leaderboard on the 10th hole but lipped out on a short putt.
"I was totally target focused today with quite a challenging wind," Sharp said about her aborted round.
"I'm pleased how I played my 11 holes and I'm just going to continue to play target golf tomorrow."
The next Canadians in line are Charlottetown's Lorie Kane and Isabelle Beisiegel of Sainte Hilaire, Que., who are tied at even par.
Michelle Wie opened with a 70, breaking par for only the second time in 19 rounds this year.