From the paddock to the putting green
In bloom ... Stacey Keating on the practice range at Oatlands. The Victorian was tied for the lead in the NSW NSW Womens Open after a first-round 66 yesterday. Photo: Brendan Esposito
STACEY KEATING has a unique appreciation for the svelte greens, neatly manicured fairways and colourful surrounds at the Women's NSW Open.
Having started her golfing journey in a rough old paddock on the family farm as a child, Keating, Australia's form female golfer in 2012, looked especially comfortable in the opening round morning session at Oatlands Golf Club, carving a six under par 66, to be tied for the lead with 16-year-old Perth amateur Minjee Lee and Swede Caroline Hedwall.
The 1000-hectare farm in Cressy, western Victoria, is home to oats, barley, canola and wheat crops, and sheep. It's also where Keating established the affectionately known "Keating Family Golf Academy" after her grandmother Lorna introduced her to the sport as a 12-year-old.
"It wasn't world-class facilities or anything," the bubbly 26-year-old said. "But, for what I had then, it was very good. Nowhere else had practice facilities around there, so I made my own."
A golf club gave Keating some turf and she even made a bunker. Later, she made a "nice little driving range area".
"I lived on a farm from the time I was born, so there was never a shortage of space to hit," she says. "I'm very lucky. I can always practise when I go home – though my ground staff aren't the best!"
Not that she's home very much these days. Keating is looking to back up her breakthrough season last year, her second on the Ladies European Tour, when she posted back-to-back victories in the Spanish and French Opens and finished sixth on the money list with 152,857 euros.
She showed similar form today, hitting four birdies on the front nine and three on the back before a stumble on the 17th.
"I just played really solid," Keating said. "I didn't make too many mistakes. I took a bogey on 17 because I hit it in the trees and had to play out. Apart from that it was fairways and greens and hole the odd putt. It was perfect out there . . . the course is great."
A co-leader, Lee, fresh from winning the Australian Women's Amateur Championship at Royal Fremantle last week, was in a group featuring English veteran Laura Davies, but wasn't fazed.
"She was really nice again," the modest youngster said. "She said 'well done' at the end of the round. I wasn't totally bad or anything. I still made my up and downs where I needed to."
The other leader, Swedish 23-year-old, Hedwall – the 2011 NSW Open winner in her first tournament as a professional – said she "felt great today" after creating "a birdie chance on pretty much every hole".
It was a good effort in quickly adjusting to the hot weather after arriving from Sweden, where she had been forced to practice indoors.
"It's really good for your technique when you're younger," Hedwall said. "But when you're on this level, you want to come out and see what you're doing on the golf course."
Hedwall will spend about a month in Australia, visiting the Gold Coast on a week off with her twin sister Jacqueline, who was also competing at Oatlands.
"I really like it there," she said. "I might try surfing. I haven't tried it before."
New Zealander Lydia Ko – who last year briefly held the record for being the youngest winner of a professional golf tournament after taking out the NSW Open – was pleased with finishing a shot behind the leaders.
"My goal was 67 today and I did that," the 15-year-old said.
She had been worried about her form in warm up after shanking several wedges.
"I was like, 'Oh my God, what's going to happen?' " Ko said. "I was really worried when I was hitting those pitch shots on the course. But luckily there were no shanks today."
Ko was on five under par, with Davies and Australia's Kristie Smith among a group two shots back.
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