25 May 2020: In her debut as a professional, Nishtha Madan made a promising start in the 20th leg of the Cactus Tour’s event at Troon North in Scottsdale, Arizona. Sophia Popov continued her impressive run with an opening round 68 as she sought to build on a rich haul this season on the desert tour for women. Amateur Chayse Gomez produced a scintillating 67 for a one-stroke lead over the German. Veronica Joels sneaked into third place with a 69 late in the day. That pushed Caroline Wales, also an amateur, into fourth place at 70. Cheyenne Woods, Riley Rennell, Emily Penttilae and Madan are tied in fifth at 71. Anika Varma, playing her third event on the Cactus Tour, played disciplined golf for much of the day, only for one bad break to tarnish her card.
Popov has been a solid presence on the tour this season – collecting back to back victories, three second place finishes and a couple of third place finishes as she secured a top 10 finish in each of her ten outings with the Arizona based tour. The field has been enriched in recent weeks with the drought of competitive golf around the world. The 15th ranked Carlota Ciganda, a regular on the LPGA and LET, collected her second win of the season last week.
Madan got off to a shaky start. She conceded a bogey on the par-4 third hole, only to recover the loss at the par-5 7th hole. That secured an even card as she made the turn in her first round as a professional golfer.
Perhaps with the nerves settling down, Madan emerged emboldened as she went past the bend. A birdie at the 10th gave her hope but the par-4 12th hole snatched it right back as the course drew her back to even par. The 21-year-old bounced back with a birdie on the par-3 13th hole but the par-4s were proving far more tricky. She conceded her third bogey of the day on a par-4, when she spilt a stroke at the 15th hole.
Another bogey, her fourth of the round, at the 117 yard 16th hole pushed her over par. But the young Hornet showed a glimpse of her inner resolve and character with a birdie-birdie finish, both par-4s, for a substantive card to begin her pro career on a positive note.
Anika Varma had also enjoyed a couple of good weeks on the Cactus Tour, having secured a T11 and T5 in her two outings in April. The young amateur was back in action, opening with a 76 on Monday. She was only one over through the ninth, but one bad hole cost her dear. Anika conceded a triple at the par-4 15th hole, the struggle there punctuating an otherwise tenacious performance. She is lying in T17.
Popov produced a clean round of golf, reaching four under through the 7th hole. She brought that advantage home with eleven straight pars. Back to back birdies at the 6th and 7th helped Gomez inch forward, but a bogey at the ninth pushed her back to one-under at the turn. She caught fire on the back nine, making four birdies in five holes including a hattrick for a solid 67.