On a day that was more testing, for most of the time anyway, than when South African Brandon Stone closed with his stunning 60 to win the men’s equivalent over the same composite course at the East Lothian venue less than a fortnight ago, Joh’s nine-under-par 62 was every bit as impressive.
Her bogey-free effort, a feat matched by Kelsey MacDonald as she made the best start of seven Scots in the field with a four-under 67 to sit joint fifth, earned the San Diego-based player a tidy cushion over Korean trio IK Kim, Amy Yang and Jenny Shin, leaving Joh delighted with her day’s work.
“I pretty much kept it in play and putted amazing,” she said after signing for eight birdies, including four in a row from the tenth. “I didn’t feel like I hit it particularly well but I feel like I just missed it in the right places and just got a hot putter.” It was almost on fire after holing two putts that were close to 100 feet in total on consecutive holes.
“I would say it’s probably my best round, but it’s links,” she added. “You just never know. Things can happen at the tip of a cap. It’s kind of like, it’s nice to have but, at this point, probably doesn’t mean very much.”
In a pre-event session with her short-game coach, Canada-based Irishman Gareth Raflewski, Joh’s focus was retained by him getting her to talk about surfing. She will be jumping on a board – if she can get her hands on one – if the rip is curling at that surfing hot-spot near Cockburnspath over the weekend.
“I’ve been doing a little research and I heard that there’s a place called Pease Bay that might be pretty decent,” she said. “I have a little magic sea wave app and it tells me the nearest surf breaks and if there’s any surf forecasted. It looked like this weekend there might be a little swell in the water. Or I might be out there off of 11 tee just trying to shred some gnar.”
Joh’s opening salvo on a sticky day on Scotland’s Golf Coast was a bit of a surprise given that she is sitting 177th in the world and hasn’t exactly been setting the heather on fire this season. “Whenever I’m trying to describe my year to my friends back home, I basically say, I’ve played pretty consistent but just not consistently well,” said the two-time Symetra Tour winner. “I would say I’ve probably made more cuts this year than I have any other year but I haven’t had any like really bright finishes. But one week can change everything.”
The clubhouse lead had been set by Kim, Yang and Shin as they capitalised on playing half their rounds without any wind whatsoever. “The whole front nine we had no wind at all,” reported Yang, who was out in the third group, just behind Shin and just ahead of Kim.
Yang, who was the youngest LET winner at the time when she claimed the ANZ Ladies Masters at only 16 in 2005, made her score with a burst of six birdies in eight holes from the ninth. “I hit it close a few times and also putted well. Everything came together today,” she said. “I like to use a lot of imagination out there.”
Kim, of course, won the Women’s British Open on Scottish soil last year. Taking up where she left off at Kingsbarns, the 30-year-old played her best golf when the wind picked up, bagging five birdies in six holes from the 11th to come home in 32.
“The course played differently today,” she said. “But I got used to certain shots and I hit many good hybrids into the green and I was able to make some good putts. My putting was exciting today.”
As was hitting the ball a lot further than normal on the bouncy fairways. “I passed a 350-yard bunker. That was good, something new,” she said.
MacDonald’s late effort put her in a group that includes Charley Hull, the highest-ranked British player in the field, as well as Sung Hyun Park and Ariya Jutanugarn, the world No 2 and No 3 respectively. “That’s my first bogey-free round for a long time, so I’m really happy,” said the 27-year-old from Nairn, pictured. “I had the speed of the greens all day and also got lucky with my tee time as we had perfect weather out there.”
Caddying for her is best friend Katy McNicoll, a PGA pro at the host club. “She keeps me intact,” admitted MacDonald, pictured. “I’m a quick player and easily get distracted. But Katy speaks to me all the time and gets me sticking to the same process.”
Aided by playing a number of trips here in the build-up to the event, MacDonald birdied the second before making further gains at the 11th, 13th and 15th. “My birdie at 11 was the best of the day as I hit 2-iron off the tee to stay out of the fairway bunkers, a 6-iron to give me a good yardage and then made a good up and down. There were some tough pins out there on sneaky slopes,” she added.”
Former world No 1 Laura Davies undid her earlier good work by finishing with five straight bogeys for a 72, but Catriona Matthew is closer to the lead after a solid 69. “Yeah, pretty pleased,” said the long-time Gullane member of her afternoon’s work. “I played really well. With the wind and the bumpiness, it’s tough to get the ball close.”