Karine Icher and her caddie husband, Fred, evaluated the conditions and course at challenging Lake Merced and decided on a Day 1 strategy: Stay short of the pin and putt uphill.
The move worked beautifully, and Icher delivered the most consistent performance on a day there weren’t many in the debut of the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic.
"I think it’s the key on this course," Icher said. "It’s a tough golf course, especially with the wind and temperature. It gets so cold. You try to stay warm and try to catch the right wind and go with it and make some putts."
The Frenchwoman birdied four of her first seven holes and finished with a 6-under-par 66 on Thursday to take the lead, two strokes ahead of Lydia Ko and several others. Afterward, Icher was off to pick up 2-year-old daughter, Lola, from the tour’s children’s care and head to dinner.
The start was delayed two hours because of fog, and play was suspended because of darkness with 24 players still on the course.
Icher had a bogey-free round and hit all but one green in regulation. Many struggled off the tee or with their putters on speedy, tricky greens on a cool day with plenty of wind and hovering fog not far off the Pacific Ocean.
The gallery sang "Happy Birthday" to Ko on her 17th birthday as she started from the first tee, and Ko came through with a 68 on a day she was also named among TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people. Ko’s group barely beat the horn for darkness.
"I wanted to finish today," she said, acknowledging the birthday song was "kind of embarrassing" but much-appreciated.
Morgan Pressel birdied four of her first eight holes and was among the players sitting three strokes back at 69.
Mo Martin also shot a 69 after warming up four times before finally hitting her first tee shot following the fog delay.
Pressel, whose round began on the back nine, went to 4 under at the turn.
Top-ranked Inbee Park opened with a 73 in the $1.8 million event, while second-ranked Suzann Pettersen had a 70 in her first tournament since missing three events with a back injury. On the par-4 11th, a frustrated Pettersen made an 8-foot putt for triple-bogey to fall from 3 under to even par before bouncing back.
Michelle Wie, coming off her first win in nearly four years last week in her home state of Hawaii, finished at even-par 72.
Those who were still on the course will play resume their rounds Friday morning, so many will have a quick turnaround after a short break. Tee times remained the same.
Pressel also had a sizzling first round in Phoenix last month, going 9 under through her first 11 holes in the JTBC Founders Cup and chasing a 59. But Pressel bogeyed two straight holes and wound up with a 7-under 65.
On Thursday, she recovered for par on holes 16 and 18 after both tee shots missed the fairway. On the forgiving par-5, 532-yard 18th, Pressel’s drive ricocheted off a tree and landed in a more favorable lie to the right of the fairway. She nearly put her third shot onto the green but the ball kicked back a couple of feet shy.
"It was actually a bit of a struggle out there. My short game kept me in it. I stayed patient," Pressel said. "I stayed tough. It’s a tough golf course. I knew nobody was going to go out there and blitz it."
Martin played through more fog, and even wondered whether there might be a second delay. The LPGA is back in the Bay Area for the first time since 2010, and San Francisco provided exactly the kind of day that so perfectly represents this region and its unpredictable weather patterns.
Martin sported an "L" charm necklace in memory of her grandfather, Lincoln Martin, who died last month at age 102. One of her biggest supporters since they reconnected 10 years ago, he last traveled to a tournament in Rochester, N.Y., last year. He ate vanilla ice cream on his chocolate crisped rice cereal — with half and half to boot — for breakfast every morning. He also had several U.S. patents.
"It would be really hard to do him justice in a couple sentences, but greatest person I’ve ever met," she said. "Changed my life when I got to know him in the last 10 years. Most peaceful person I’ve ever met. . . . Everybody out here loved him. He followed women’s golf and was a fan of everyone."
Angela Stanford and Se Ri Pak withdrew Thursday, and neither provided a reason to tournament officials.