LAKE ELMO, Minn. — On Sunday, Oregon women’s golf coach Derek Radley had a conversation with Kiara Romero before the start of her collegiate career.
Romero, who won the U.S. Girls’ Junior this summer in Colorado and advanced to match play at the U.S. Women’s Amateur in California, has had success at numerous stages in her junior career. Radley told her she didn’t need to do anything different to replicate that at the college level.
Safe to say the talk paid off.
The freshman shot 5-under 67 on Monday at Royal Golf Club in the opening round of the 2023 Annika Intercollegiate and is tied for second. The tournament is one of the best in the country all season long, but in her first collegiate round, Romero stood out and finished strong, making birdies on three of her final four holes.
“I think when players move to the next level, they feel like they have to do something extra special,” Radley said. “I told her to just go be an athlete because she’s just so gifted.”
Oregon’s Kiara Romero at the 2023 Annika Intercollegiate. (Photo: Ben Adelberg/The Back of the Range)
Romero posted five birdies and no bogeys on a course that numerous players took advantage of. She is tied with San Jose State junior Lucia Lopez Ortega and South Carolina freshman Maylis Lamoure. South Carolina junior Louise Rydqvist birdied her final three holes to shoot 6-under 66. She holds the solo lead.
“(The U.S. Girls’ Junior) showed me I can compete and win against these girls,” Romero said. “Everything was pretty smooth out there today.”
Lopez Ortega’s round started incredibly with a hole-out eagle on the par-4 11th, her second hole of the round. She had 133 yards, to the hole and hit from the rough, up over trees, the ball landing on the right side of the green before funneling into the cup.
“I didn’t see it go in,” she said while laughing, “but it’s pretty nice.”
Last year’s individual champion, Virginia junior Amanda Sambach, shot 2-under 70 in her title defense.
However, it’s South Carolina in front in the team competition and with the leading individual. The Gamecocks shot 15 under and lead Wake Forest and San Jose State by four shots after the opening round.
South Carolina’s Hannah Darling at the 2023 Annika Intercollegiate. (Photo: Ben Adelberg/The Back of the Range)
“It’s definitely gettable out here,” South Carolina coach Kalen Anderson said. “We’ve got some long hitters, and the par 5s are pretty gettable for us.”
Lamoure shot 5-under 67 and Vairana Heck added a 3-under 69. Two-time first-team All-American Hannah Darling was the other counting score at 1 under for Anderson’s squad.
Wake Forest, the defending national champions and last year’s Annika Intercollegiate winners, is in great position after the first round. The Demon Deacons shot 9 under in the opening round, with Mimi Rhodes and Brooke Rivers each shooting 4 under.