ST. ALBANS, Missouri – The sweltering Missouri heat was on display Tuesday during the first round of the 42nd Girls Junior PGA Championship. Temperatures reached 97 degrees, but didn’t seem to bother Hailee Cooper as she tied a Championship record after firing an 8-under 64 at the Country Club of St. Albans, Lewis and Clark Course.
Cooper’s mark ties the lowest 18-hole score in Girls Junior PGA Championship history, joining Mariel Galdiano (2016), Yujeong Son (2015), Leigh Anne Hardin (1999) and Virada Nirapathpongporn (1999).
“There’s so many good players in this event and so many great past champions,” said the 17-year-old from Montgomery, Texas. “It’s really cool to tie this record.”
The 64 is also a personal best for Cooper, whose previous low was a 65 in 2015. A near hole-in-one on the 134-yard, par-3 12th and a stretch of three consecutive birdies from holes 14 to 16 solidified Cooper’s two-stroke lead.
“I’ve been waiting for that good round [this summer],” said Cooper, who missed only one green in regulation. “I knew I had this in me, and I finally had that breakthrough round.”
This year marks the first time the Championship features an all-girl, full field of 144 players. Forty states and five countries are represented.
Lauren Beaudreau and Yealimi Noh hold a share of second place after they each posted a 6-under 66.
Beaudreau, making her second start in the Championship after a missed cut last year, began her round with a 12-foot par putt and 35-foot birdie on her first two holes. The highlight of Beaudreau’s day came at the 489-yard, par-5 14th. After leaving her second shot 50 yards from the pin, she pulled a 56-degree wedge and holed her third for an eagle. The 16-year-old from Lemont, Illinois, closed her round with birdies at three of her final four holes.
“I felt really comfortable with my putting,” said Beaudreau, who needed only 24 putts on Tuesday. “My first two holes really calmed my nerves.”
Noh demonstrated pinpoint accuracy with her approach shots, hitting 16 of 18 greens. The Concord, California, resident recovered from an opening-hole bogey with a birdie on the 492-yard, par-5 2nd. She proceeded to birdie four of her final five holes on the front nine.
“I didn’t make any long putts, but I made every putt within 10 feet,” said Noh, who finished in a tie for 21st in the 2016 Championship. “I really wanted to improve this summer, and I’ve been playing a lot better than last year.”
Zoe Campos of Valencia, California, Virginia Green of Point Clear, Alabama, and Karah Sanford of Escondido, California, trail Cooper by three strokes after they each posted a 5-under 67. Green and Sanford cruised to bogey-free cards, while Campos’s round featured a holed-out eagle from the greenside bunker on the 463-yard, par-5 11th.
Defending Champion, Lucy Li, carded a 4-under 68 and sits in a tie for 7th. 2015 Champion, Elizabeth Wang, finished with a double-bogey, but remains in contention with a first round 3-under 69.
“Finishing eighth last year motivated me to do even better this year,” said Cooper, who will attend the University of Texas after she graduates from Montgomery High School in 2018. “Throughout the rest of the week, I’m going to keep steady and play it like a marathon. It’s a long tournament.”