They often say that testing conditions bring the best players to the top of a field and so it proved today at the Templeton Golf Club in Christchurch for the New Zealand Age Group Championship.




North Harbour golfer Sai Ma and Auckland rep Wenyung Keh set the pace with impressive opening rounds of even-par 73 to share the lead in the bitterly cold conditions.

Ma and Keh handled the 90 minute wet-weather delay the best of the field to lead by two shots from Wellington No.1 Julianne Alvarez and Bay of Plenty rep Tyla Kingi.

Ma, from the North Shore Golf Club, who finished runner-up at the North Island Stroke Play to Munchin Keh after leading for three rounds, is searching her first national title.

“I am 18 this year so this is my last year of playing this championship,” said Ma. “I want to have the best possible finish here.”

She made a birdie and two bogeys on the outward nine to make the turn in one-over par and then added another birdie coming home.

Keh, who finished as the top qualifier at the New Zealand Amateur earlier this year, also signed for a two-bogey, two-birdie round.

“I putted really well today but my chipping let me down a bit,” said the 16-year-old from the Pakuranga Country Club. “It was freezing and I made some silly bogeys.”

Both players had different takes on the long delay.

Ma said: “I had fun with friends, chatted and had lunch. I played quite steady on the back nine and gave myself quite a few birdie opportunities. It wasn’t that hard [with the break] you just have to re-focus and get back into it.”

While Keh added: “When I got back out on the course my driving went way right. It was hard to adjust because I didn’t get a warm up. Going straight back into the cold was tough.”

There was no doubt that the weather was the talking point in round one and in those conditions both players were content with their start.

Ma has been extraordinarily consistent in 2013 to be eighth on the Order of Merit.

She has record seven top-five finishes, including four runner-ups and one title – the North Shore Classic - on her home track in May.

“I had a couple of little mistakes here and there around the greens today so I was just trying to fix things up. But overall I am happy with how I played. It will be nice to play in better weather, hopefully.”

Keh, the beaten finalist in last year’s NZ Amateur, has enjoyed another good season in 2013 highlighted by a win at the Bay of Plenty Open.

“I want to play my own game and get into the final group for the last round and then I will try to go on from there,” she said.

Meanwhile, New Zealand Amateur Champion Alvarez was satisfied with her two-over par start.

“The weather was something that we had to face but I can say that I wasn’t hitting it as well as I would have liked but my short game made up for it,” said the 17-year-old from the Manor Park Golf Club.

“I sunk a few good putts and the times when I was hitting it close I wasn’t converting those opportunities but that happens and all up it was a pretty solid day.”

“Living in Wellington I have played in bad weather lots of times before so I just drew on those experiences.

Alvarez has never won the age group title and is looking to chase down Keh and Ma.

“They played pretty good considering the conditions. I could have scored a lot better than what I did today but I need to stay patient.”

The New Zealand Age Group Championship is a three round stroke play event which concludes on Friday.






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