Sunday, February 14, 2016

Trio of Sierra Brooks, Hannah O'Sullivan and Andrea Lee has mixed first round at ANNIKA

Andrea Lee (Stanford), Hannah O'Sullivan (USC) and Sierra Brooks (Wake Forest) are expected to sign during the early signing period for the Class of 2016.
Andrea Lee (Stanford), Hannah O'Sullivan (USC) and Sierra Brooks (Wake Forest) are expected to sign during the early signing period for the Class of 2016. ( Tracy Wilcox )
REUNION, FlORIDA — If you were to going to take a guess on which group the winner of the ANNIKA Invitational would come out of this year, the smart choice would have been on the group with the 8:50 a.m. tee time off of hole No. 1.
With Andrea Lee, Sierra Brooks and Hannah O’Sullivan in the same group, three of the top five junior players in the world, according to the Golfweek rankings, would be teeing it up together at the Watson Course at Reunion Resort. And since the top-ranked player in the world Nelly Korda, isn’t in the field, it would make sense to think all three would have come out near or at the top of the leaderboard. Instead, O’Sullivan is the only one in the hunt after the first day. She shot even-par, good enough for T-4, four off the leader Youngin Chun. Muni He posted a first-day 70 to sit solo second, with Tristyn Nowlin another shot behind in third.
Brooks struggled on the back nine and ended 5 over and Andrea Lee had an uncharacteristically bad round and shot 14 over, good for T-69 in the 72-player field.
“This course is pretty difficult,” Brooks said. “These greens are really tricky, they’re really big, so placement is key. Of course hitting in the fairway helps too. I missed a lot of greens so I need to work on that. I think playing in this group pushes us all to play well. It didn’t come through so much today, we struggled, but it was still great to play with them.”
The trio are good friends and even better competitors and they often find themselves playing in the same group — especially O’Sullivan and Brooks ever since their 36-hole duel at the U.S. Women’s Amateur in August.
“We’re always paired together now,” said O’Sullivan, who won that Women's am match-up in Portland. “I think it pushes both of us to be better and we’re really good friends as well. So I think we want to see each other do well but there’s also some competition out there.”
But in all their times playing together, Brooks and O’Sullivan haven’t seen Lee struggle as much as she did Saturday. Lee, Golfweek's No. 2, has built a reputation for being a steady player. But on a day where the course was tough and windy conditions didn’t make it any easier, Lee was never able to right the ship. She ended with seven bogeys, two double bogeys and a triple bogey.
“It’s hard to watch your friend struggle because I’ve been there. We’ve all been there,” Brooks said. “This is a tough game. But I told her it’s just a game. And sometimes we put so much pressure on ourselves and make it out to be more than what it is. But it’s just a game. This is going to make her so much stronger as a golfer.”
Though Lee’s round left her visibly upset, Brooks’ 5-over 77 didn’t seem to bother her. She’s going through a bit of a swing change, and even though she wasn’t hitting the ball the way she would like, she was able to scramble and get up and down for the first 11 holes.
O’Sullivan, meanwhile, has her swing working on all cylinders. Despite what she called a couple “sloppy mistakes,” she put together one of the best rounds in the field. This is her second appearance at the ANNIKA Invitational, but it comes five years after her first appearance in 2011, where she finished 65th with a three-day total of 238. 
The only other player in that 2011 field that is in this year’s is Allisen Corpuz, who finished T-26 that week. Ever since then, O’Sullivan’s schedule hasn’t allowed her to get back to the event, but this year things were clear and she jumped at the chance.
“It’s so great to be back, it is such an honor to be in this tournament and to be able to spend time around the person who is probably my biggest role model (Annika Sorenstam),” O’Sullivan said.