ATHENS, Ga. -- Stanford golfer Mariko Tumangan may be measured at a mere 5-foot-4, but she’s always stood taller than that.

Well, not always. Born three months premature -- at Stanford Hospital, no less -- Tumangan said Tuesday that at birth she weighed no more than three pounds and “was the size of a soda can.”

Who could have imagined then that she would pack so much power into her tiny frame as a young woman? But on Tuesday during the first round of the Division I Women's Golf Championships at the University of Georgia Golf Course, Tumangan consistently drove the ball as far or farther than most of her opponents and had the rest of the game to match.

She came into her final hole, the 488-yard, par-5 18th, tied for the lead at 2-under-par before a poor chip shot led to a bogey, forcing her to settle for a 1-under 71 on the day. Regan De Guzman of San Jose State ended up posting the best round of the morning -- a career-best 65 that was 5-under. Tumangan tied with Stanford teammate Lauren Kim and two others for the second-best round amongst the 66 players who teed it up early

“I played really well in the beginning and at the end I kind of faltered, but it was OK overall. For my first round, I wanted to be at least even par -- and I did that,” Tumangan said.

Stanford head coach Anne Walker thought Tumangan’s round could have been even better.

"I’m thinking she’s probably a little disappointed with her 71. I think she had it going [Tuesday] and she knows that 66 or 67 was out there for her,” Walker said.

Perhaps that’s just more good news for Tumangan who, like her coach, said she knows she can score even better. It was the best opening round in a tournament for Tumangan all season, but the sophomore from San Jose, Calif., insisted it came as no great surprise.

“Leading up to this tournament, I’ve been playing really well. I think I’ve shot under-par rounds in every event leading up to this -- the Pac-12s, the [NCAA] regionals, and now this,” Tumangan said. “So my confidence has just been building from those tournaments, giving me momentum. I was nervous coming into this tournament, but it definitely played into my favor. I tried to channel the energy into positive energy.

“Everything’s good with my game right now. So I’m looking forward to [Wednesday and the second round of the four-round tournament].”

Tumangan learned early in life to look forward to, well, everything in life. She said she learned that lesson from her mother, Misako Tumangan, who made a courageous decision just to bring her daughter into the world.

Misako Tumangan was told at the time that to proceed with childbirth would put both her and her baby at serious risk, and that one or the other between mother and child, and possibly even both, very possibly could die if she went through with it.

“The doctors told my mom there was a 50-50 chance between both of us for this procedure, so I have to thank my mom,” Tumangan said. “My mom was in danger. I wanted to come out like maybe five months early, but they kept saying, ‘Hold her, hold her, hold her.’

“There was another couple going through the same procedure at the same time and they terminated the baby. So it was amazing that my mom went through with it, and that we both ended up fine.”

My mom always tells me, ‘There is a reason you are here. ... No one ever thought I was going to be fit and strong -- and now I’m here.
-- Mariko Tumangan

The fact that Tumangan was born at all is amazing enough. The fact that she grew up strong and athletic and proficient enough at golf to play collegiately on the same campus where she was born is doubly amazing -- especially when she mentions that she never really planned on attending Stanford.

“I think for Mariko, growing up in Stanford’s backyard, she tells the story that she was never really thinking of going there. In her head, she was always going elsewhere,” Walker said. “She just kept working hard and her parents are all about academics. She did great in school and obviously was a great player, especially in Northern California.

“So when it came time to be recruited, she started getting calls from Stanford -- and all of a sudden she thought, ‘Well, why wouldn’t I go to Stanford? It’s the best school in the country, it’s a great golf school, it’s in my backyard.’  So I think for her, in the end, it was very exciting for her to take that opportunity.”

Now she has another grand opportunity in front of her, with 18 holes down and 54 to go in the NCAA championship tournament.

“I want to be more relaxed,” said Tumangan, who birdied the second, fifth, 10th and 11th holes Tuesday, but also bogeyed the sixth and 15th in addition to No. 18. “I just have to rely on my routine. This is why I practice every single day of my life, right? I mean, obviously I’m going to get nervous. But there is a lot of golf left and I just need to tell myself, ‘That’s OK, too. Whatever happens, it’s OK.’ "

Walker insisted that Tumangan’s opening round was no fluke.

“This golf course sets up really well for Mariko,” Walker said. “She hits the ball really long and she hits it really high with kind of a soft draw, and this golf course pretty much requires that golf shot. … So I really do think she can sustain this and keep playing the way she did, and maybe even score a little better.”

Whatever happens, Tumangan said she’s already proud of how far she has come in life.

“My mom always tells me, ‘There is a reason you are here,’ " she said. “But golf-wise, it’s really weird that I ended up playing at Stanford, or at all. Because when I was born, I was like two-and-a-half or three pounds. I was the size of a soda can and no one ever thought I was going to be fit and strong -- and now I’m here.”