VELINDA CASTIL, only 15, and Abby Abarcas, 16, drew the spotlight with Florence Bisera holding the fort for the pros in the first round of the International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) Del Monte Championship at the Del Monte Golf Club in Bukidnon on Tuesday.
Castil carded a 73 to grab a one-stroke lead over Abarcas and Bisera as the two local teenagers flashed their familiarity with the tight, demanding mountain-top layout on a hot, humid day.
Castil and Abarcas sustained their fine showing in the Junior Philippine Golf Tour (PGT) VisMin Classic at Pueblo de Oro last Sunday where they finished second and third, respectively, behind Alethea Gaccion to secure spots in the national finals of the series.
But seizing early control of the P750,000 championship against the big guns hardly crossed their minds.
“I practiced a lot with my short game since that is the key here,” said Castil, who birdied two of the four long holes, including the 18th that shoved her past Abarcas.
The eighth leg of this year’s Ladies PGT, organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments Inc. and backed by PGTI official apparel Kampfortis Golf, is actually Castil’s second pro tournament after finishing tied for 15th at Forest Hills last June.
Abarcas vowed to soak up the moment in the next two days as she hoped for the best.
“I’ll just enjoy it, fairways-greens and try to go for two-putts,” Castil said.
Abarcas, on the other hand, puts premium on driving.
“It’s very important off the tee because the fairways are narrow and if you get it straight, you’ll have more chances,” she said.
The rising star who also hails from Manolo Fortich like Castil said she had no expectations in her first pro event but came in bristling with confidence and kept a positive mindset despite bogeying three of the first five holes at the back.
That resulted to birdies on Nos. 15 and 18 then mixed two bogeys against a birdied at the front and missed catching Castil at the helm with a flubbed birdie try on the par-5 ninth.
“I didn’t expect to be where I stood but it’s exciting,” said Abarcas, who is also relishing her stint as a first-time member of the national pool.
While Bisera, who finished second to Daniella Uy at Forest Hills, bucked a couple of three-putt miscues to take the cudgels for the pros with a two-birdie, four-bogey card for joint second, Uy struggled trying to recover from a double-bogey start.
The former Junior World champion, who also won at Riviera in 2021, also bogeyed Nos. 7 and 8 although she bounced back with two birdies against another bogey in the next five holes and wound up with a 75 in a tie with Valley leg winner amateur Mafy Singson and Sarah Ababa at fourth.
Korean Seo Kim, back in the LPGT hunt after a two-leg absence due to injury, turned in a birdie-less 76 for a share of seventh with Apple Fudoli, Pamela Mariano and compatriot amateur Jiwon Lee.
For a while, two-leg winner and pre-tournament favorite Harmie Constantino appeared headed for an explosive run after coming through with a pitch-in eagle on the par-4 11th, her second hole. But what came next was a long streak of mishits and missed putts, leading to seven bogeys as she instead limped with a 77 to slip to the group that included Chihiro Ikeda, Lesley Icoy, Annika Cedo and Gaccion at 11th.
But expect Uy and Constantino to turn it around in the second day and make another run for the championship in the 54-hole tournament put up by ICTSI although Castil and Abarcas try to prove their mettle in a stern test for the two young players going all-out to make the most of their stint in big-time golf.
Image credits: Roy Domingo