Penn HS grad Potter, Irish alum Nakazaki with solid starts in Four Winds Invitational

Penn High School alum Julia Potter showed she can still hang with the best on Friday afternoon.

The 26-year-old who no longer 'plays' golf for a living (but does work for the Indiana Golf Association) but received a sponsor's exemption for the Four Winds Invitational at Blackthorn in South Bend.

It's part of the Symetra Tour, the step just before the LPGA.

Potter capped off a solid day with a beautiful approach on 18 that finished off for birdie to shoot an even par 72 in the opening round of the three day event.

"To end the round with a birdie--I had a tough time making putts all day--I was hitting some great shots but finally it all came together on 18 and hopefully I can put it all together tomorrow," Potter said after the round.

"It's just been exciting. It means a lot to me. I've had a lot of family members, friends come out and watch. They don't get that opportunity a lot so to be able to play in a tournament in this area with this caliber of people. It just means the world to me."

Fellow Penn High alum Kari Bellville didn't fair as well, shooting a 78. Bellville just graduated two weeks ago and will debut at Notre Dame in August.

Notre Dame alum Becca Huffer sunk a birdie on her final hole to finish at even par.

Noriko Nakazaki, who graduated from Notre Dame in 2007, shot a 2-under 70.

“I cannot be more excited right now, I saw my name on the leaderboard and it has been awhile,” said Nakazaki. “Having an eagle-birdie-birdie-par-par finish is a great confidence builder and doing it all in South Bend is very special.”

The head coach of the Notre Dame golf team Susan Holt followed Noriko and watched as she nearly made birdie on the 18th to end her day.

“This feels right at home, I’m staying with the assistant coach (Kyle Lynne Demeter), I know the area very well and I know the grass so it’s very nice playing here.”

Nakazaki made 10 consecutive pars to open her day before a double bogey at the 11th hole. After two straights pars, she made an eagle at the 14th and back-to-back birdies at the 15th and 16th holes.

“Eagle doesn’t happy very often and it was a good shot into it and then the next few holes I hit it very well and made the putts.”

With ideal conditions and soft greens, 49 players shot under-par and Nicole Vandermade seized control of the Four Winds Invitational on Friday by shooting a bogey-free 8-under-par 64. Vandermade will take a three shot lead into Saturday over Lee Lopez, Jean Reynolds and Garrett Phillips, who all shot 5-under 67.

The 8-under 64 is the lowest round on the Symetra Tour in 2014.

“I woke up and I was pretty tired this morning, a bit groggy, so I came to the course to try to get it to wear off and I hit it OK, but nothing special, on the range” said Vandermade, who had an 8:30 tee-time. “I started off fairly consistent with a lot of fairways and greens and rolled a couple birdies in on the front and then got it rolling on the back.”

Vandermade carded birdies on the sixth and seventh holes to make the turn at 2-under. After a par on the tenth hole, Vandermade caught fire with six consecutive birdies between the 11th and 16th holes.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a stretch with six birdies in a row before. I hit a lot of fairways and greens and I happened to be close and then rolled the putts in. It was just a pretty fun day.”

The Brantford, Ontario native came one stroke short of the Four Winds Invitational tournament record, which is a 9-under 63 carded by Jessi White in the second round of the 2013 event.

“It means a lot to put together this round because I’ve been struggling this year. I’ve been starting off with bogeys and getting myself in holes. So, it’s kind of nice to have a good day the first round to set me up for the rest of the tournament.”

Vandermade is 90th on the Volvik Race for the Card money list and has made just four of nine cuts this year.

The 23-year-old leads the Symetra Tour in average driving distance of 260.659. She used her distance as an advantage on Friday.

“I think it helped a lot especially with the soft fairways I was able to carry my drives a lot further than some girls and I had a lot of short irons into the green. The greens are soft so I can aim right at the pin and I knew they weren’t going to roll too much so it helped a lot.”

Madison Pressel, who won the Decatur-Forsyth Classic last week, was a college teammate of Vandermade for three years at Texas.

“We played together for three years and we motivated each other then (at Texas). Her win makes you motivated and shows that it can be done and I might as well try to do it now.”

Vandermade had momentum heading into this week coming off her best finish of the year at the Decatur-Forsyth Classic when she placed in a tie for 18th.

She has an 18-hole lead for the first time in her Symetra Tour career. She has two career top-10 finishes.

Lopez, Reynolds and Phillips each carded six birdies and one bogey to enter the second round in a tie for second.

Jamila Jaxaliyeva, Lindy Duncan, Min Seo Kwak and Daniela Iacobelli are in a tie for fifth at 3-under.

RECORD SETTING?: The lowest cut in the 34-year history of the Symetra Tour is 1-over-par with 78 players in 2010 at the Tate & Lyle Players Championship at Hickory Point Golf Club in Decatur, Illinois.

The projected cut line after round one is 1-over par.

BARRAGE OF BIRDIES: There were 385 birdies made and the average score on Friday was 72.84. A total of 66 players shot even-par or better.

Last year, 33 players were under-par on day one of the Four Winds Invitational and in 2012 only six players were under-par. In 2012, there was severe weather on the Friday of the event.

STEPHANIE KONO COMBINES GOLF AND JAPANESE FASHION: Stephanie Kono shot a 2-under 70 in the first-round of the Four Winds Invitational.

“I made a lot of good swings today and I made some putts so I’m happy with a 2-under today,” said Kono. “I saw the lead at 8-under, which is great, but there are two more days left so we will see.”

Kono started sporting knee-high socks this year.

“I went to Japan last year for Q-School and noticed that everybody wears the high socks and so I decided to try them out and I really like the way they feel. Everybody out here says I look very Asian with the high socks and I am Asian so I have to represent.”

At first, Kono wasn’t sure if the high socks look would stick, but now she is all in.

“I bought two at first and then I really like how they felt so I bought some more. I think I am going to add some more to my collection in the near future.”

KAZAKHSTAN NATIVE JAXALIYEVA HAS BEST DAY OF YEAR: Jamila Jaxaliyeva, who hails from Almaty, Kazakhstan, shot a 3-under 69 and is in a tie for fifth after day one.

Jaxaliyeva was actually considering withdrawing from the event when she woke up this morning.

“I’m very proud with how I did especially because I was about to withdraw this morning when I woke up with a fever and a sore throat,” said Jaxaliyeva. “I was pretty sure I was not going to play and then I talked to my dad and he said you have to go to the doctor immediately, but I thought that was too much.”

She took some over the counter pain relievers and gave it a go.

“The front nine was just awful, I felt really bad and I was sleepy because I didn’t sleep well last night.”

Magically, Jaxaliyeva managed to make three consecutive birdies between the fifth and seventh holes to make the turn at 3-under.

Jaxaliyeva has not made a cut yet on the Symetra Tour so her finish was extra special.

“It’s special because I’m the only one from Kazakhstan (playing golf), so I’ll send a picture of my name on the leaderboard back to Kazakhstan and they’ll be proud of me. Especially now that qualifying for the Olympic games is underway. I’m really trying my best to be one of the 60 girls that qualify.”

So, how did she find her way onto the Symetra Tour?

“I played in Kazakhstan a bit and then Europe as well. I played amateur golf and then went to university in Switzerland. There was no college team whatsoever, but I don’t regret going there, it was the best decision of my life. Everyone is supporting me and there is this goal of going to the Olympic games. The Symetra Tour is not only the road to the LPGA but also the road to the Olympic games because I can collect points here for the world rankings.”

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