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Long hitters bomb to top in KPMG Women’s PGA at Kemper Lakes

First-round leader Sung Hyun Park reads a putt on the 14th green Thursday at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, the third major of the year. Gregory Shamus/Getty ImageS

First-round leader Sung Hyun Park reads a putt on the 14th green Thursday at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, the third major of the year. Gregory Shamus/Getty ImageS

It should come as no surprise that big hitters enjoyed the first round of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes  — the longest course in the 64-year history of this event.

“Finally, a golf course that benefits the long hitters,” Jessica Korda said after shooting an opening 67. “The last couple weeks, it’s definitely been a lot of 3-woods or even 4-irons off the tees. So this is really nice.”

South Korea’s Sung Hyun Park, who’s fourth in the LPGA in driving distance at 273.1 yards, holds the lead alone after shooting a 6-under-par 66 at 6,741-yard Kemper Lakes. Korda, fellow Florida native Jaye Marie Green and Canadian Brooke Henderson are one shot back. Henderson is seventh in driving (271.2), Korda is eighth (270.6) and Green is 20th (265.2).

“One of the par-3s was 205 with a back tucked pin, and I just hit 4-iron right in there,” said Green, who notched one of her six birdies at the 205-yard 13th. “The other girls are hitting hybrids and stuff. I like courses where you’re hitting a lot of different clubs.”

The course was still soft from this week’s rain — especially for the morning flight led by Korda and Green. And if it was a bit steamy, with temperatures in the 80s, the contestants in the third of the LPGA’s five majors are aware the thermometer is expected keep rising this weekend.

“I like the heat. Used to it, being in Texas,” Stacy Lewis said after shooting a 70 to remain in striking distance, even though she spotted playing partners Korda and Charley Hull, who shot a 68, a lot of yards off the tee. “I know [Friday] is going to be a lot worse, so just try to prepare for it.”

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The pregnant Lewis, 33, will play in only one more tournament before taking the rest of the year off. She’s expecting her first child in early November.

“It doesn’t really change things,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the break. The energy level is getting a bit tougher. I’ve definitely lost a little bit off the tee. I think I was a little bit frustrated with that at the start, with how far Charley and Jess were by me. But I started playing the golf course the way I needed to play it and played a lot better on the back nine.”

Lexi Thompson, the LPGA’s third-longest driver (275.2 yards), didn’t take advantage of her length to score. But she did notch a hole-in-one, using an 8-iron on the 166-yard sixth hole (her 15th hole of the day) on the way to a 1-under 71.

Defending champ Danielle Kang, who won at Olympia Fields a year ago, encountered an unexpected and formidable obstacle.

“I had a really bad stomachache before I even teed off,” said Kang, who showed obvious signs of being in pain. “I don’t know what caused it, but I’m thinking it was the waffles. I threw up after nine [holes]. I’m going to stick with oatmeal and cereal.”

Kang shot a 73 to start her bid to become only the fifth player to win back-to-back Women’s PGAs. That would be especially rare because that’s her only LPGA Tour win.

“It’s a major,” she said. “No one is really taking it that low. I feel really good about my position because we have 54 holes left. That’s a lot of golf. I made the best out of what I could have made today.”

Like many golf purists, LPGA players are enjoying the
prospect of a tournament that isn’t a birdie fest.

“I love the way they set up the golf course,” Korda said. “I could finally hit drivers. This is how golf courses should be set up for us.”

Folllow me on Twitter @HerbGould and at TMGcollegesports.com