By Nick Hunter
BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – Looking to become the first player to win back-to-back titles in the 21-year history of the Minnesota Women’s State Open, Kathryn VanArragon carded an opening round of even par 73 Thursday at Minnesota Valley Country Club for a three-way share of the lead.
Bouncing back from a bumpy start to open the championship Thursday, defending champion Kathryn VanArragon surged up the leaderboard by rolling in three birdies against one bogey over her final nine to finish tied with professional Betsy Kelly and Isabella McCauley at even par.
“That was kind of a rough start, but I was trying to build on the momentum of the birdie [on No. 5],” VanArragon said Thursday. “The last nine are pretty tough, so I was trying to take it one shot at a time.
“I was happy with my tee shots today. It’s something that I’ve struggled with this summer, and to be confident on this course, with some tight fairways, is important on this course especially. I’ve been working on being confident and committing to every shot—that’s been a big key.”
VanArragon entered the final round of last year’s championship at The Jewel Golf Club three shots back of Taylor Ledwein’s 18-hole lead, and would claim a one-stroke victory to become the youngest player in Minnesota Women’s State Open 20-year history.
Playing her first four holes in 3-over Thursday, VanArragon found her footing by two-putting for birdie at the par-5 fifth and would turn in 2-over.
Rolling in a pair of 10-foot birdie putts at the 12th and 14th holes to get back to even par for the championship before getting up-and-down from in front of the 15th hole to move to red figures for the round.
VanArragon would bogey the par-4 17th to finish with a share of the lead at even par.
“I come into every tournament with the goal of trying to do my best—especially with the season winding down. I was lucky enough to have a break between the [Junior PGA Championship] and this week.”
A soon-to-be junior at Blaine High School, VanArragon enters the week coming off a 45th-place finish at the Junior PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville late last month. VanArragon qualified for the national championship after winning the Minnesota Junior PGA Championship at Bent Creek Golf Club in early July, shooting 5-over 147 for a two-stroke victory.
Kelly, a 29-year-old professional, jumped out to the early lead Thursday, carding three birdies over her first six holes and would turn in 3-under before stumbling during her back nine with three bogeys to finish the opening round tied for the lead at even par.
“Came in with some confidence and got off to a hot start,” Kelly said following her round Thursday. “It was a solid round—I was making putts on the front and then just kind of fell apart on the back with dumb decisions.
“I was good off the tee—my distance helps here. There were a lot of holes I had wedges in and there’s a lot of birdies you can make out here. The par-5s, I ate them up. If I’m not on the green, I’m right next to it.”
Kelly won the 2009 Class AAA individual title to cap off her junior season at Forest Lake High School and would add a Minnesota Junior PGA Championship win the following season. Following her collegiate career at Colorado State University, Kelly turned professional in 2016.
Next week Kelly will compete at Mission Hills Country Club near Palm Springs, Calif., hoping to gain status for the LPGA Tour.
Kelly leads the four professionals in the field at Minnesota Valley this week. Savannah Smith (from Crosswoods Golf Club) currently sits tied for 10th following her round of 77, while Haley Tollette (of Rum River Hills Golf Course) fired an 83 to sit tied for 32. The defending Minnesota Section Women’s Player of the Year, Angie Ause, carded an 85 Thursday and will begin the final round tied for 45th.
McCauley, who also competed at the Junior PGA Championship last month at Valhalla and finished tied for 14th, rolled in a pair of early birdies to begin her round Thursday, but fell back to even with bogeys at the seventh and ninth holes.
She would trade two more birdies with two bogeys over her final nine holes to earn a share of the lead at even par.
The final round of the 21st Minnesota Women’s State Open is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. at Minnesota Valley Country Club.
THE 21ST MINNESOTA WOMEN’S STATE OPEN
MINNESOTA VALLEY COUNTRY CLUB
5,982 YARDS, PAR 73
THURSDAY’S FIRST ROUND RESULTS
T1. Kathryn VanArragon, Bunker Hills GC, 38-35—73
T1. Betsy Kelly (p), TPC Twin Cities, 33-40—73
T1. Isabella McCauley, Southview CC, 36-37—73
T4. Maggie Veenendall, New Richmond GC, 37-38—75
T4. Taylor McCorkle, unattached, 39-36—75
T4. Olivia Salonek, Cragun’s Legacy Courses, 39-36—75
T7. Catherine Monty, White Bear YC, 39-37—76
T7. Leah Herzog, Mississippi Nat’l GC, 39-37—76
T7. Lexi Geolat, The Jewel GC, 39-37—76
T10. Megan Welch, Brackett’s Crossing CC, 39-38—77
T10. Courtney Wedin, Windsong Farm, 39-38—77
T10. Savannah Smith (p), Crosswoods GC, 38-39—77
T10. Julie Oerther, MN Valley CC, 39-38—77
T10. Jasi Acharya, Interlachen CC, 40-37—77
For complete tournament results go to: https://mnpga.bluegolf.com/bluegolf/mnpga21/event/mnpga2128/contest/1/leaderboard.htm