ORONO — It has been difficult for Emily Bouchard to find the time to play the three tournaments needed to qualify for the WMSGA Championship.
The 22-year-old Saco native worked as an intern for the MSGA Junior Golf program the past three summers, and with the demanding schedule that comes along with the job, it was challenging to even get in a round of 18.
“Working the Junior Golf program events, I would sometimes be there from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.,” Bouchard said. “I’d go out an hit a couple of shots with the kids every now and then, but I never was able to play many rounds.”
Bouchard has a new job this summer, though, and she is taking full advantage of the extra time as she shot a 7-under-par 66 (including nine birdies) to take the lead in the opening round of the 81st annual WMSGA Championship at Penobscot Valley Country Club Monday.
She is five shots ahead of 17-year-old Karli Soracco (the 2010 MSGA Junior Girls Division Champion) of Turner Highlands Golf Course, who turned in a 71.
Ann Probert of Waterville Country Club finished the day third with a 75 and Mary Brandes of The Woodlands Club in Falmouth is at 77. Pennie Cummings — a six-time winner of the event — is in fifth with a 78 and Leslie Guenther of Norway Country Club finished out the top six with a 79.
Bucksport’s Whitney Hand is in seventh with an 80, and last year’s winner Kristin Kannegieser of Martindale Country Club in Auburn shot and 81 and is tied for eighth with Prudence Hornberger of Turner Highlands Golf Course.
Bouchard’s father, John (who is her caddie this week), introduced her to golf when she was 12, and she went on to become a member of a very competitive all-boys golf team in high school at Thornton Academy in Saco.
But after graduation, she lost some interest in golf, and played sparingly for three years while attending the University of Southern Maine. Bouchard then transferred to Daniel Webster College in Nashua, N.H. to study air traffic control after picking up the game again, and finished her first season on the men’s golf team last year.
“I’ve been very confident all summer, and I’m playing better than I ever have,” said Bouchard, who is working in the pro shop at Dunegrass Golf Club in Old Orchard Beach for the summer, which allows for a more flexible schedule to play golf.
Bouchard’s confidence showed on Monday as she birdied the second, third, fifth and seventh holes before bogeying the eighth and ninth — her only two bogeys of the day — to hit the turn with a front-nine 34.
She then birdied the par-5 427-yard 10th hole with a long drive and a powerful mid-iron shot to get to 3-under. On the par-4 12th hole Bouchard sank a 12-foot putt for birdie, birdied the 13th, and finished the best round of her career with a birdie on 17, and another long putt for birdie on 18 for a back-nine 32.
“I think it was a combination of everything working for me today. I had a few three putts that resulted in bogeys, but it starts off at the tee and I was able to find the fairway on most of my drives,” she said. “It was good to throw some putts in the hole as well. We had a goal to make one more birdie on 18, and it felt great to end with that one.”
Bouchard was paired with Cummings and Brandes, forming a very loose and relaxed group that took three of the top five spots on the leaderboard — something that all three feel helped their game.
“It’s very helpful to play with others who are playing well, but it also helps that three of us got along so well. It made for a very fun day,” Cummings said.
Bouchard is a member at Biddeford Saco Country Club in Saco and she believes practicing there — another Donald Ross-designed course much like PVCC — helped her prepare for Monday’s opening round.
“I’ve never played here before and my dad and I were only able to squeeze in nine holes before it started raining Sunday, but knowing what the greens and the rough would be like helped a lot,” she said.
Bouchard will be paired up with Soracco on Tuesday. Soracco — who had three birdies on the back-nine — was one of Bouchard’s Junior players when she was an intern, and is excited at the opportunity to play against her old friend.
“It will be fun,” Soracco said. “I’ll be comfortable playing around her, so I’m glad we’re matched up in the second round.”
Tuesday’s play will begin with the highest scores teeing off first, putting Bouchard and Sorocco on the tee last at 11 a.m.