HARTFORD, Conn. — Phoebe Brinker stepped off the 18th green unaware of the significance behind her first-round 65, which matched the lowest 18-hole score by a woman at Keney Park Golf Course.
Kelly Whaley, daughter of PGA of America President Suzy Whaley, originally set the number (65) during the 2018 Hartford Women's Open last June.
The record-tying tally by Brinker is good for a share of the Girls Junior PGA Championship lead with 14-year-old Sara Im of Duluth, Ga., and 18-year-old Yuka Saso of the Philippines.
Better yet for Brinker? She channeled some family lineage in doing so, as she is Kelly’s cousin and Suzy’s niece.
“Oh my gosh, I didn’t know she [had the record],” said Brinker, who resides in Wilmington, Del. “I’ve played with Kelly since I was little. That’s really cool to be tied with her.”
Im and Saso shared Brinker’s level of excitement when learning of their record-tying performances.
“I wasn’t expecting to shoot under par,” said Im. “I was coming out trying my best. Having one of the lowest rounds here is really meaningful to me.”
“I’m really thankful,” said Saso. “I didn’t expect that. I hope I can bring that again tomorrow.”
Suzy, who will be at Keney Park for the final two rounds on Thursday and Friday, was elated for her niece.
"To see either one of my daughters (Kelly and Jenn) or my niece (Phoebe), who I consider my third daughter, at the top of any leaderboard is a moment and screenshot that I’ll have forever,” said Whaley. “Phoebe called me right when she finished. She knows there’s a ton of golf left, but she was proud of herself. I told her she could celebrate for a half-hour and then she needed to go putt.
“Kelly and Jenn are like her big sisters. She used to live with us every summer. It’s a cool day for her to tie Kelly.”
Brinker’s 65 was a career-best for the 17-year-old. After a stagnant front nine, which included a bogey-birdie stretch on Nos. 5 and 6, Brinker hit the accelerator. Five birdies on the back, including four over her final five holes, solidified the 65.
“My irons weren’t going as close to the hole. I was struggling a little bit, but my putting was solid all day,” said Brinker. “I stayed patient. I didn’t hit it very well on the range. I just tried to keep hitting fairways and greens. I wasn’t expecting [the 65].
“I played this course when I was younger for PGA Jr. League. I’m definitely very comfortable out here.”
Im is making her first-career appearance in the Girls Junior PGA. But as the 2018 Drive, Chip and Putt Champion for the 12-13 Division, Im has demonstrated she can perform on the big stage. Today proved no different.
Like Brinker, Im’s charge up the leaderboard occurred later in her round. Im was one-under par through 11 holes, but birdies at Nos. 12, 14, 15 and 18 punctuated what was a special day.
“I had a lot of birdie chances today,” said Im. “Usually, putting is my problem. But today, everything went in that was supposed to. Today was just solid all around.”
Saso, who finished tied for sixth last year at Kearney Hill Golf Links in Lexington, Ky., fell behind early with a bogey at the first. She wouldn’t make another the rest of the round and carded six birdies along the way, including three straight from holes 12 through 14.
“I wasn’t putting well the first nine because the greens were a little bit slower than I thought they would be,” said Saso. “The back nine, my approach shots were good. A lot of them were inside 15 feet.
“Last year (at the Girls Junior PGA), I learned how to maintain a good score. That has helped me at a lot of tournaments, and it helped me today, too.”
The three leaders combined for 13 birdies and 0 bogeys on their back nines on Tuesday.
Trailing the trio in fourth place is Lilly Thomas of Bentonville, Ark., who finished at 66. Rose Zhang, the 2017 winner and last year’s runner-up, is one of five in a tie for fifth (67).
Cassie Kim of Yakima, Wash., set off some post-Fourth of July fireworks with her first career ace, coming on No. 18. She used a 6-iron from 148 yards. Kim carded a 72 and is tied for 60th.
The 44th Boys Junior PGA Championship will also be contested at Keney Park Golf Course from July 30-August 2.
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