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Dean Holzwarth | | May 14, 2015

Reversing the trend

Rollins 5-13 Madison Lellyo shot a 2-under 70 in Wednesday's first round.

ALLENDALE, Mich. -- Madison Lellyo admitted she had struggled with her putting so far in this postseason.

The Rollins freshman reversed that trend in the opening round of the NCAA Division II Women’s Golf Championships.

Lellyo used a strong performance on the greens to fire a 2-under 70 on Wednesday at Grand Valley State University's The Meadows to grab the early lead.

She was one of only two players in the field to shoot under-par and is one shot ahead of Limestone’s Brittany LaPadula, who shot a 1-under 71.

“I haven’t played well this postseason because of my putting so I was unsure coming into this tournament because of that,” Lellyo said. “I wasn’t hitting the ball great, but I was putting really good and my putting saved me throughout the round. It was one of my best up-and-down tournaments this year.”

Lellyo’s strong start helped Rollins to a 306 score after the first day of the 72-hole event. It trails Indianapolis (305) by one stroke entering Thursday’s second round.

Lellyo, who started on the back nine, recorded five birdies on her round to go along with five bogies. She was 3-under after 16 holes, but dropped to -2 under after hitting it into the bunker at No. 8.

“I had a 30-yard bunker shot on that hole and just misjudged it,” Lellyo said. “I didn’t hit the green, but got up and down for bogey.”

Lellyo two-putted for par on the par-5 ninth hole to cap off her splendid round. She received a fist bump and hug from coach Julie Garner.

“She didn’t hit the ball particularly well, according to her, but she putted great and her putting is on point most of the time,” Garner said. “When it is like it was today, she’s tough to beat. The rough is very punishing here, but Madison is just very good at putting the ball in play and keeping it in front of her. This course really benefits people who do that.”

Lellyo made bogey on her second hole of the day, but recovered with back-to-back birdies on No. 13 and No. 14 to get into red numbers.

She rolled in a 40-foot birdie putt on No. 2, which started a string of three birdies in five holes.

“I was pretty nervous at the start, but I started relaxing throughout the round,” said Lellyo, who had 29 total putts and didn’t have a three-putt. “I took advantage of every good shot I hit. Every time I was close to the pin I did make the putt so I guess that helped.”

Lellyo said she worked diligently on her putting in the days leading up to the tournament.

“The last three days in preparing for this I worked a lot of my putting so my confidence was pretty good even though it wasn’t good in conference and regionals,” she said. “My ball striking wasn’t that good, but I managed it. You don’t need to hit good to play good.”

Lellyo was thrilled to put her team in early contention in its bid for a national crown.

“I’m excited that I started out strong and I know it helped my team out,” she said. “It felt good to help my team because every stroke counts in team play.”

Garner said she wasn’t surprised by Lellyo’s low score, even though it was her debut at a national tournament.

“She won her first college tournament right out the gate so it’s not like she is lacking experience at a high level,” she said. “She played a lot of mini-tournament professional events as an amateur, and she’s always sought out the highest level of competition. I thought she was well prepared for this arena.”

While only two players broke par, Garner said The Meadows is a demanding golf course that doesn’t leave much room for error.

“This course is not for the faint of heart so anything even or better today is really good because the back nine plays really tough,” she said. “We got off to a poor start as a group on that nine, and colder temperatures were not an advantage, but if not for Madison then we would be farther down the leader board than we are.”