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Brooke Rivers leads Canadian amateurs after first round of CPKC Women's Open

VANCOUVER — Brooke Rivers says she's just focused on playing golf at this week's CPKC Women's Open. But she still stopped to sign an autograph for a young girl as she crossed over from her front nine to the back nine.
Brooke Rivers, of Canada, watches her second shot from the fairway on the 14th hole during the first round at the LPGA CPKC Canadian Women's Open golf tournament, in Vancouver, B.C., Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER — Brooke Rivers says she's just focused on playing golf at this week's CPKC Women's Open. But she still stopped to sign an autograph for a young girl as she crossed over from her front nine to the back nine.

That quick pause in her round came as she was one of the early leaders on Thursday morning at the Canadian women's golf championship. The 18-year-old Rivers, a collegiate player set to start her first full year of university this fall, finished her round at 1-under 71 to sit in a tie for 13th.

Rivers's round had the lowest score of any amateur at Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club.

"I think it's very similar to any other tournament," said Rivers after her first-ever round of professional golf. "I'm just trying to do the best that I can, and this is to me like any other tournament.

"So I'm staying in the moment. Not too many nerves. I'm just here to play golf."

That said, Rivers doesn't get asked for many autographs at amateur tournaments.

"Yeah, a little bit different," Rivers said with a laugh. "It's fun just to kind of inspire the younger generation."

Rivers, from Brampton, Ont., started at No. 10 and had two birdies in her first five holes before firing an eagle on the par-5 No. 15.

"In the practice round I wasn't close enough to go for the green on 15, but today I was full send going for the green and ended up in a good place," she said, grinning. "Short-sided myself, but hit a perfect chip and went in."

Although she had four bogeys after the eagle, Rivers recovered with a birdie on the par-5 No. 7 to finish the round on a high note.

"I'm missing my first week of college to be here," said Rivers, who will play for the Wake Forest Demon Deacons starting this fall. "Worth it, but it's just about golf. It's not about the tournament or who is in it. 

"I'm here to play golf and hit the shots that I want to hit."

Rivers is one of 15 Canadians in the field at the Women's Open. Ten of those players are amateurs, as Golf Canada works to develop a new generation of professional golfers.

Kevin Blue, the national governing body's chief sport officer, said that it was important to give more amateurs an opportunity to play in their first professional event because it would help them better visualize their development targets.

"It allows them to understand viscerally and emotionally how their games measure up to a field like this, which is featuring the vast, vast majority of the top 100 players in the world," said Blue. "We obviously hope that they'll play well and make cuts and do those things, but primarily, the objective this week is for our players to learn as much as possible about areas where there's still gaps between them and a world-ranked player."

Hamilton's Alena Sharp was the low Canadian on Thursday, shooting a 3-under 69 to sit in a group tied for third.

"It's amazing to see all the young kids here. I get older, they get younger it seems like," said the 42-year-old Sharp. "They have a lot of talent and Golf Canada has done a great job with the program and giving these girls opportunities to play in events like this. 

"It's a huge experience builder for them. It's great to see them all here."

Maddie Szeryk of London, Ont., was tied for 31st at 1-over 73, Brooke Henderson of Smiths Falls, Ont., was 3-over 75, and amateur Lauren Kim of Surrey, B.C., was 4-over.

Epson Tour player Sarah-Eve Rheaume of Quebec City and amateurs Ellie Szeryk of London, Luna Lu of Burnaby, B.C., and Toronto's Vanessa Borovilos were grouped at 5-over 77. Like Rivers, Ellie Szeryk was happy to be playing in her first-ever professional event.

"It was a little frustrating with the greens. I'm just not used to how the LPGA plays them," said Ellie Szeryk, the younger sister of Tour professional Maddie Szeryk. "I'm used to the balls slowly rolling out like two, three yards and they're rolling out quite a bit more but you can't leave them short because they stick. 

"So that was a pretty big adjustment, but it was cool."

Brigitte Thibault of Rosemere, Que., was 6-over 78 and amateur Victoria Liu of Vancouver was 7-over 79. Amateurs Katie Cranston of Oakville, Ont., and Lauren Zaretsky of Thornhill, Ont., were 8-over 80.

Amateurs Yeji Kwon of Port Coquitlam, B.C., Victoria's Sonja Tang, and Angela Arora of Surrey were grouped at 9-over 81.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 24, 2023.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press