Women's Scottish Open: Michele Thomson leads by two shots after course-record 65
Something in the East Neuk of Fife air is bringing out the best in Scottish golfers. Hot on the heels of Grant Forrest landing his maiden European Tour win in the Hero Open at Fairmont St Andrews, the Saltire is flying proudly again just 15 miles away on the Firth of Forth side of the eastern most area of Fife.
Step forward Michele Thomson, who, watched by both her dad Graham as he returned to a golf course for the first time since suffering a heart attack while caddying for the Aberdonian and manager Paul Lawrie, enjoyed arguably the best day of her career.
While it may not have been the lowest round she’d signed for as a professional, the 33-year-old’s seven-under-par 65 at Dumbarnie Links on the opening day of the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open - it earned her a two-shot lead - was something special, as testified by one of the best smiles in the game being plastered on her face.
Taking advantage of being out in warm and benign morning conditions before the wind picked up around lunchtime and the temperature dropped, Thomson recovered from a “nervous” bogey at the opening hole on the Clive Clark-designed course to card an eagle and seven birdies, including four in a row around the turn.
It was a new women’s course record, meaning she has something in common with Lawrie at this venue. Playing in a pro-am earlier in the year, the 1999 Open champion set a new men’s course record with a 63 before seeing that matched by Gavin Hay and Greig Hutcheon on the same day.
After Thomson had capped her equally-impressive day’s work by hitting a lovely controlled wedge from well below the hole and rolling in an eight-footer for a closing birdie, Lawrie showed what he thought of the effort by giving her a fist bump at the side of the green.
“It was great to play that well in front of Paul,” admitted Thomson, who joined European Tour winner David Law among others in signing for the Five Star Sports Agency after it was set up by Lawrie in 2018. “I think it's the first time he's seen me play for a while and I've been struggling.
“I didn't see him going down the first and I hit a great shot into the second and eagled it and I turned around and he's like, ‘oohh’. It's just really nice to have him there and every time I hit a good shot he was so supportive and he needs to come back (laughing).”
After turning professional on the back of a successful amateur career that culminated in a Scottish Women’s Championship success and a Curtis Cup appearance at St Andrews in 2008, Thomson fell out of love with the game for a spell and became a policewoman for a spell during a break from the sport.
It was days like this that she craved after deciding to give up pounding the beat in her native North-East and giving tour life a second crack. “I shot a course record in India that was one shot better in 2018, I think it was,” she said. “But to do it here, shooting a 65 in the first round in Scotland, feels a bit better.
“It's difficult to explain, but I've actually been hitting the ball great for like a long time but not scoring well. I knew that there was a good round in me at some point, and it was just nice that obviously I kept it for here.”
Thomson admitted earlier in the week that it had been “scary” to see her dad suffer his heart attack during an LET event in Finland last month. While fit enough to spectate again, he’s not ready to resume caddying duties, with regular LET bagman Hadley Trenfield filling in and enjoying the fact the new team clicked in such spectacular fashion.
“He’s a great guy and he's also quite a calming influence,” said Thomson. “Every time I hit it in and got a little bit excited he brought me back down to earth and was like, ‘concentrate on what you're doing, one hole at a time’. He was good. The only shot I missed, really, all day was probably my drive at the first, and it was just one of those nice rounds.”
Also out in the morning, US Women’s Open champion Yuka Saso, Dutchwoman Anne van Dam, a member of Europe’s Solheim Cup-winning side at Gleneagles in 2019, and Thailand’s Jasmine Suwannapura all carded 67s.
World No 8 Saso, the highest-ranked player in the field, made eight eagles but also had a bogey and double-bogey. Links golf is still somewhat alien to the Philippines player, so she was grateful for some pre-event advice from defending champion Stacy Lewis.
“In America, we kind of have to go high and try to stop the ball but here it's like you have to be more like rolling a low ball and trying to chase it to the hole. That's the shots that I'm not really used to,” she said.
“After watching her (Lewis) doing that, I practised those shots yesterday and that helped. So yeah, I'm really thankful and hope to play with her more so I can learn from her.”
Lewis, who claimed the title in a play-off on the other side of the Firth of Forth at The Renaissance Club, opened her title defence with a 71 to sit alongside AIG Women’s Open champion Sophia Popov, with Olympic bronze medallist Lydia Ko one better.
Backing up Thomson’s effort, Kelsey MacDonald carded a superb bogey-free 68 in the afternoon, when Kylie Henry (72), Carly Booth (XX), Gemma Dryburgh (73) and Alison Muirhead (74) also faced the tougher test.