After playing competitor Amy Yang began her round with three consecutive birdies at Siam Country Club, Maja Stark decided the Honda LPGA Thailand might be a birdiefest. Yang, after all, is a three-time winner of this event.
Only Stark didn’t simply pour in birdies on a steamy day in Chonburi, she holed out twice from the fairway for eagle. The first one came on the fifth hole with a half nine-iron.
“Then on 11, I said to my caddie, ‘Oh, let’s make another one’ as a joke, and it went in,” said Stark, who opened with a 6-under 66.
The rising Swedish star finds herself in a share of sixth after Round 1. Jennifer Kupcho, Xiyu Lin, Anna Nordqvist, Nasa Hataoka and Jaravee Boonchant of Thailand share the lead at 7 under.
“The coolest thing would be like on No. 18 and No. 9 with all the crowds and all the stadiums that people were on,” said Boonchant, a Duke grad who is playing this event for the first time as an LPGA member.
One of 11 Thai players in the field, Boonchant earned membership by finishing in the top 45 and ties at the 2022 LPGA Q-Series.
Former No. 1 Atthaya Thitikul, currently the highest-ranked Thai player at No. 4 in the world, sits in a tie for ninth after an opening 67.
Stark, a first-timer in Thailand, said that she recently spoke with Solheim Cup captain Suzann Pettersen and confessed that she’s terrified of messing up.
“She said, ‘Maja, do you have a heart?’ ” recalled Stark. “I said, yeah. ‘Is it beating?’ Yeah. ‘Then you’re human, you are going to mess up, but you just you keep going.’ ”
While Stark said she has some great coaches back home in Sweden, they haven’t walked the same path as someone like Pettersen, a 15-time winner on the LPGA. Stark, who has looked up to Pettersen for years, can’t believe she now has the fiery Norwegian’s cell phone number.
“She’s so tough,” said Stark. “I feel like we’re the complete opposite kind of. I don’t know. She described me as a Pitbull, but I feel like a Golden Retriever. I know I have I have no idea where she got that from.
“Some people say I look mean on the course, but that’s not what I feel.”
Stark left Oklahoma State early to turn professional in the summer of 2021. She has since won seven times worldwide, including the ISPS Handa World Invitational, which earned her an LPGA card. She currently tops the LET’s Solheim Cup points list.