PRIDDIS — Maybe Anna Rawson will finally start to believe that she picked the right profession.
It was only a couple months ago that the 28-year-old Australian found herself fighting mental demons and doubting whether she should continue playing professional golf.
The decision to stick with it was rewarded Thursday when Rawson shot a course-record 64 at Priddis Greens and held the early first-round lead at the CN Canadian Women’s Open. She was one stroke up on Suzann Pettersen, two ahead of Lorena Ochoa and Amanda Blumenherst, and three better than Louise Stahle, Il Mi Chung, Momoko Ueda and Joo Mi Kim. The birdies piled up so quickly in ideal morning conditions that Rawson stopped counting how many she’d rolled in.
“I really tried today to just stay in the moment,” she said. “I’m so good at getting ahead of myself and saying, ‘Oh, if I get to 3-, if I get to 4-, if I get to 5-under.’ So I just didn’t even think about it.”
It’s the kind of approach that would make Kevin Sverduk proud.
The sports psychologist from Long Beach, Calif., started working with Rawson over the summer and has emphasized the importance of staying focused on the task at hand.
The advice couldn’t have started yielding results at a better time as Rawson confesses that she recently considered quitting golf — something she even withheld from her psychologist for a month.
The 28-year-old has missed nine cuts in 13 events during her second year playing the LPGA Tour and blames it mostly on a poor frame of mind.
“I think this year has just been terrible mentally,” said Rawson. “Like I’ve just had the worst head that you could ever imagine. I don’t even want to tell you what’s been going through my head — it’s that bad. I thought about everything that I shouldn’t.
“I really haven’t hit the ball that bad. I just haven’t been here. I haven’t been enjoying it.”
It was awfully easy to enjoy the game while making nine birdies and two bogeys to break Dawn Coe-Jones’ course record by one shot and top one of the strongest fields in women’s golf.
Amateur Maude-Aimee Leblanc of Sherbrooke, Que., and Adrienne White of Red Deer, Alta., posted the lowest score among the 12 Canadians by each shooting even-par 71. Hamilton’s Alena Sharp got in at 72 while Canadian amateur champion Jennifer Kirby of Paris Ont., and A.J. Eathorne of Penticton, B.C., both shot 73.
The round put together by Pettersen might have been the most impressive of the day as it came during the afternoon, when the wind reached more than 55 kilometres per hour.
“(It was) very, very tough because the wind is so gusty and it’s swirling,” said Pettersen. “Sometimes you think it’s down and then it’s dead into you, and then it’s off the right and off the left. So you have to try to control the trajectory, which I’m doing really well right now.”
Like some of the other players on the leaderboard, she’s had to deal with a little disappointment of late.
Pettersen managed just one point from five matches during the Solheim Cup two weeks ago and was beaten in a playoff at last week’s tour stop in Portland. It hasn’t fazed her much.
“That’s OK,” said Pettersen. “I can take it. I’m still young.”
Even though Ochoa remains the top-ranked women in the world, she’s only posted one top-10 finish since May. The 65 was her lowest round since that time.
“I’m really happy with that,” said Ochoa, the 2007 winner of this tournament. “It was important to get started in the right direction. I like my position.”
Rawson had to like hers even more.
A look way down the leaderboard provided a reminder of how fickle the game can be — Rawson was eight shots better than current money leader Cristie Kerr (72) and 12 ahead of teenager Michelle Wie (76), who has yet to miss a cut all season.