Canada’s Richdale is second; James T8 at Florida’s Natural Charity Classic

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Samantha Richdale (Symetra Tour)

LAKE WALES, Fla. – Marissa Steen (West Chester, Ohio) made a 30-foot putt for birdie on her first hole and used the early jolt to post a 6-under 66 to lead the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic on Friday. Samantha Richdale (Kelowna, British Columbia), Ya-Chun Chang (Chinese Taipei) and Kana Nagai (Tokyo, Japan) are two shots off the lead at 4-under 68.

There are three teenagers in the top eight – Chang (15), Nagai (18) and Greta Voelker (18), who posted a 2-under 70 and is T8. There are also seven different countries represented inside the top eight.

Steen, a 3-time Symetra Tour winner, made three birdies on her outward nine and three birdies heading in.

“I hit the ball solid all day and the first two birdies I made were both long putts, one was a 30-footer and on the par-3 15th I made a 35-footer,” said Steen, who played on the LPGA in 2015. “Those two freed me up and then I started to hit shots closer.”

Steen, who finished T8 at the IOA Championship to open the year in February, used the time in between events to visit friends and prepare for this busy stretch. She went home to Ohio for a bachelorette party and also played in some NWGA mini tour events, winning one.

“I thought about playing some Monday Qualifiers on the LPGA, but at the beginning of the year I thought I just needed reps,” explained 26-year-old Steen. “I just wanted to get six competitive rounds under my belt before coming here.”

Her plan seems to have worked to perfection as she hit 16 of 18 greens in regulation and needed just 29 putts.

After winning three times in 2014 on the Symetra Tour, Steen battled injuries on the LPGA Tour in 2015 including three cracked ribs and missed the cut in her final eight starts.

“It was a really tough year,” admitted Steen. “I was so excited to go out there (LPGA) and I had never had an injury before and I didn’t know how to handle it. When I was no longer hurt, I started to press and felt like I had already not played my best in the first three or four months of the season. Then, it became mental and it was me getting in my own head all season. I definitely learned a lot of lessons.”

Steen said that club selection was also an issue on the LPGA because she was trying to do too much.

“I tried to go for broke a lot and hit heroic shots all season,” explained Steen. “I played below the hole today and took a 30-footer, but otherwise I need to take a two-putt and move on.”

Of course Steen’s top priority is returning to the LPGA, but she’s more focused on improving year-over-year then results in every event.

“Ever since I started playing golf, I’ve always said that if I can play better than the year before and keep improving to become the best golfer I can be then that is my real goal,” said Steen. “Focusing on the money list or being in the top 10 every week doesn’t work for me. I just go out and hit the best shots I can and it seems to be working.”

Steen said she is hitting the ball better than ever and is now more confident than ever.

“If I’m not confident in myself then who else is going to believe in me,” said Steen. “I just need to get out of my own way because that is one thing that has always held me back.”

Team Canada Young Pro Squad member Augusta James of Bath, Ont., sits T8 at 2-under. Lorie Kane, who was named for induction into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame as part of its 2016 class, opened at even-par.

Canadians in the field: