Abe and Ha Lead Early Qualifying in 2012 WAPL June 17, 2012 By Rhonda Glenn, USGA

Lakareber Abe plays from the fairway on the ninth hole as seen during the first round of stroke play at the 2012 U.S. Women's Public Links at Neshanic Valley Golf Course in Neshanic Station, N.J. on Monday, June 18, 2012. (Hunter Martin/USGA)

Neshanic Station, N.J. –  Cindy Ha, 15, of Demarest, N.J., and Lakareber Abe, 16, of Angleton, Texas, fired rounds of 4-under-par 68 to take the early lead in stroke-play qualifying at the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links at the 6,221-yard, par-72 Neshanic Valley Golf Course.

Brittany Altomare, 21, of Shrewsbury, Mass., opened 36-hole qualifying with a 3-under-par 69.

Both Ha and Abe used sharp short-iron play to lead the morning wave of qualifiers. Ha also used local knowledge. She lives in Demarest, about 60 miles from the championship site, and has played the course four or five times.

Starting on the second nine, Ha birdied the 12th, 13th, 16th and 18th holes against two bogeys. After making the turn, her birdies came at the first, second, fourth and sixth holes. Only one of Ha’s birdie putts was longer than 15 feet, a curling 30-footer from the fringe on the 13th hole. Five of her approach shots nestled to within 8 feet of the hole and on the fourth and 14th holes she hit wedge shots to within a foot.

Admittedly keyed up on her opening holes, Ha rallied. Once I got onto my back nine I got a lot steadier, said Ha. I knew there are a lot of good players, so I tried to go low.

In going low, Ha shot her lowest score in a USGA championship. While this is her first U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, she twice played in the U.S. Girls’ Junior. In the 2011 U.S. Women’s Amateur, she reached the match-play round of 16.

Also starting on the second nine, Abe recorded birdies at the 12th, 16th and 18th holes. On the 503-yard, par-5 fourth hole, she hit the green with a 3-wood second shot and got down in two putts from 60 feet for another birdie. She capped her round with a final birdie at the par-5 ninth hole.

I just tried to stay patient, said Abe. Sometimes I get ahead of myself but I didn’t today.

Ha became a U.S. citizen last year when her parents, natives of South Korea, attained U.S. citizenship. She’s an incoming junior at Northern Valley Regional High School in Demarest.

Abe recently moved to Fort Worth, Texas to attend the Jim McLean Golf Academy and pursues studies on-line.  She lives in a house with other Academy students and several of their mothers, who rotate supervisory duties.

Altomare is an incoming senior at the University of Virginia. In 2011, she was a quarterfinalist in the Women’s Amateur Public Links and has qualified for the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open. In 2009 she played a Women’s Open practice round with Lorena Ochoa and watched the professional spend a lot of time practicing her short game during the round.

I used to focus a lot on targets, said Altomare. Now I feel like working around the greens in practice is the best thing to do.

On Monday, it paid off. One of Altomare’s six birdies came from a holed chip shot on the third hole.

After the conclusion of stroke-play qualifying on Tuesday, the low 64 scorers advance to match play. Matches begin on Wednesday and the championship concludes with a 36-hole final on Saturday. 

Rhonda Glenn is a manager of communications for the USGA. Email her at rglenn@usga.org.