Norway Surges into Lead at The Spirit International

October 12th 2015 - TRINTY, Texas—Things didn’t go as planned for Norway on Monday in the first round of the 2015 Spirit International, but the Norwegian players certainly are pleased with the results.
With a combined score of 14-under-par 130, Norway holds the lead in the marquee International Team division, one of five simultaneous competitions at The Spirit International. The biennial championship features 80 of the world’s best golfers in Four-Ball Stroke Play format played over 54 holes. Twenty countries send their top two men and women amateurs and a team captain to Whispering Pines, the top-ranked course in Texas for nearly a decade, for the unique event. In addition to the International Team competition, there are separate contests for Men’s Team, Women’s Team and Men’s and Women’s Individual titles.
Paced by Victor Hovland’s six birdies, the Norwegian Men’s Team shot a tournament-best 9-under 63. His teammate Kristoffer Reitan added three birdies, as neither player made a birdie on the same hole – which is one of the keys to Four-Ball Stroke Play.
“Our strategy was to get two balls in play off every tee box so we’d have two chances on every hole,” said Hovland, an 18 year old who plans to play college golf in the U.S. in the near future. “We didn’t do that at all, though. We had holes where I played well, and he didn’t. Then he’d play well and I didn’t. So we didn’t stick to our plan, but we managed to play very well together.”
Hovland’s six birdies tied him with Spain’s Victor Pastor in the Men’s Individual competition, which is decided by the most strokes under par. Spain’s Adria Arnaus, a junior at Texas A&M, Switzerland’s Marco Iten and Will Zalatoris from the U.S. Team all made one eagle Monday. 
Tied for second place in the International Team competition at 13-under 131 are Japan and Belgium. The Republic of Korea is in fourth place at 12-under 132, and Spain is fifth at 11-under 133. The hosting U.S. Team combined to shoot 9-under 135 and shares seventh place with France and Switzerland.
Japan’s Coach Gareth Jones said course management and efficient putting were the keys to his team’s solid play in the first round. Nasa Hataoka made seven birdies and leads the Women’s Individual competition. She teamed with Minami Hiruta to shoot 7-under 65. The Japanese Women are in third place in the Women’s Team division, behind Belgium and Mexico, which are tied for the lead at 8-under 64.
“We’ve been focusing on course mapping and getting in the best positions possible to score,” Jones said. “We came together as a team really well.”
Belgium also received stellar play from their Women’s Team. Leslie Cloots and Charlotte De Corte energized their entire team with a string of six consecutive birdies in the middle of the round. Starting with one on the par-5 fifth hole, the Cloots and De Corte rolled in nothing but birdies for the next hour and 45 minutes.
“It was really easy. It came naturally,” said Cloots, a junior at North Carolina who also played in the 2013 Spirit International. “We were hitting it in there close on every hole and rolling it in.”
Although stunning in its natural beauty, Whispering Pines also is among the most challenging courses in this part of the country. The men played the par-72 course at 7,312 yards, and the women’s tees were set at 6,312 yards. Thick, gnarly Bermuda grass rough edges the fairways and surrounds the putting surfaces, which were rolling at about 12.5 on the Stimpmeter.
“Those were the fastest greens I’ve played in my life,” Hovland said. “I like fast greens, but these were really fast.”
At five shots off the lead, the U.S. Team has plenty of work to do in the remaining 36 holes. Zalatoris, the 2014 U.S. Junior Amateur champion, and Philip Barbaree, who won the 2015 U.S. Junior Amateur championship, teamed to shoot 6-under 66 and are tied for third place in the Men’s Team competition. While both played well, they were hurt by the fact that when one player got in trouble, the other failed to make a birdie.
“We didn’t ‘ham-and-egg’ it very well today,” said Zalatoris, a sophomore at Wake Forest. “It was a big learning experience for us. What’s exciting is we shot 6-under and felt like we played terrible. We know how good we are, so we know we can do much better tomorrow.”
Mariel Galdiano echoed Zalatoris’ words. The U.S. Women made eight pars and a bogey on the back nine after shooting 4-under on the front.
“We had a tough time today,” said Galdiano, a 17 year old from Hawaii who won this year’s Canadian Women’s Amateur Championship. “We’ll be much hungrier tomorrow. We know we can play much better.”
Spirit Notes
• Tomorrow’s Stars Today: A quick look at the list of former Spirit International players tells the story of how special the event is. Major professional champions such as Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Paula Creamer, Lexi Thompson, Charl Schwartzel, Martin Kaymer, Lorena Ochoa and Yani Tseng all played in The Spirit International during their formative, amateur careers. Other former Spirit International players include Brooke Henderson, Brandt Snedeker, Matteo Manassero, Francesco and Edoardo Molinari. For a complete list of Spirit International alumni, click here. 
• Needler Challenge: For the second time at The Spirit International, each of the 80 amateurs was invited to play in an unofficial nine-hole competition after Sunday’s practice round on Whispering Pines’ short course, known as the Needler. Three teams combined to shoot 8-under-par 21 to share the victory: Spain, France and England. The Spanish team got a major boost when Maria Parra Loque made a hole-in-one on the third hole. The reigning European Amateur Ladies champion flushed an 8-iron from 141 yards for the ace. “It was going straight at the hole, but we couldn’t see it go in,” Loque, 17, said. “I was running up to the green, and it was in the hole.”
It was Loque’s first career ace, and her timing couldn’t have been better. Players who make a hole-in-one during the Needler Challenge win a Rolex watch. Loque was presented her new timepiece during the Players’ Dinner on Sunday night. It was the first hole-in-one in the Needler Challenge.
The Needler opened in 2013 and was designed by Chet Williams, who also created the award-winning Whispering Pines Golf Club in 2000. With the Needler, Williams conjured an equally awe-inspired venue that marries beautifully into the property’s rolling hills, lakes and forest. Each hole on the Needler boasts four separate tee boxes; overall, the holes range in length from 68 to 312 yards. The Needler’s fourth and eighth holes share a 300-foot-long green that features nine feet of elevation changes throughout its 28,000 square feet of putting surface. Seven of the nine holes have water hazards in play.
• Family Ties: Team Switzerland’s Albane Valenzuela, who at age 15 won the 2015 Spanish International Women’s Championship, is the daughter of Alberto Valenzuela, who won a gold medal with Team Mexico at the first Spirit International in 2001. Albane is the first Spirit competitor to be the offspring of a Spirit Alumnus.
• Stacked Field: Of the 80 men and women amateurs competing in The Spirit this year, 74 of them are either national champions or ranked No. 1 in their home country. On the U.S. Team, Zalatoris won the 2014 U.S. Junior Amateur; Barbaree won the 2015 U.S. Junior Amateur; O’Sullivan won the 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur, and Galbiano won the 2015 Canadian Women’s Amateur.
• About Whispering Pines: Located along the northern shores of Lake Livingston, Whispering Pines showcases the beautiful piney woods of East Texas. It offers its philanthropic membership a secluded and first-class golf experience. Since opening in 2000, Whispering Pines has received national honors. Golf Digest listed Whispering Pines the “Third Best New Private Course in America”, the “Best in Texas” and 11th in America’s 50 Greatest Golf Retreats. In Texas, the Dallas Morning News –Texas Golf Course Rankings has named Whispering Pines as the #1 golf course in the state every year since 2006.
The Spirit Golf Association, a 501(c)3 charitable organization, is responsible for the Whispering Pines membership program and tournament management of The Spirit International. The Texas Golf Association is the governing association for The Spirit International. 
• What’s Next: The second round begins Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. For complete scoring across all five competitions, click here. For more information on The Spirit International, The Spirit Golf Association membership opportunities,click here or contact The Spirit Golf Association office at 281-298-2610.
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