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By Steve Brandon/Portland Tribune/Oregon State golfer off to 4-under-par start in LPGA Cambia Portland Classic

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Ellie Slama of Oregon State follows an approach shot Thursday at Columbia Edgewater Country Club, where she shot a 4-under-par 68 in the first round of the LPGA Cambia Portland Classic.It's been quite a year for South Salem High grad Ellie Slama — and it's not over by a long shot.

As a sophomore at Oregon State, Slama made the all-Pac-12 team in April. She set a school record for one season with seven top-10 finishes. She tied the lowest Beavers score ever with a 66 in the final round of the NCAA reigonals, thus qualifying for the national tournament. She also was one of 72 women invited to play in the new and prestigious Augusta National Women's National in Georgia, an event set up by Masters officials and held just before that hallowed invitational. This summer, she won the Oregon Amateur.

And then on Monday, she qualified for the Cambia Portland Classic, sharing medalist honors with 18-year-old Californian Yealimi Noh, who de-committed from UCLA and turned pro in January. Both shot 68.

For an encore, Slama did it again.

She fired a 68 on Thursday in the first round of the Cambia — and flirted with a 67 before just missing a 12-foot par try on the 18th hole.

Slama was tied for 24th, four behind co-leaders Hannah Green and Mi Jung "M.J." Hur.

Slama just missed the fairway to the right on the 18th and felt she had to lay up because of the water guarding the green.

"No reason to bring that into play when I'm sitting happy with where I'm at," she reasoned.

After a good pitch, her putt just slid past the cup.

It was the next-to-last stroke of the day for the 144-player field, and it came at 7:03 p.m., with clouds making sunset seem imminent and with the day's gallery down to mostly the orange-and-black clad Beaver fans or family members following Slama to the finish.

Going to Augusta remains the highlight of her year and amateur career.

"Augusta will always stand out, no matter what," she said. "It's a different type of golf there. It's incredible. It's so green."

But so far, this week at Columbia Edgewater has been special as well.

"I didn't really have any expectations," she said of her pre-round mind-set. "I've played this course quite a few times, and I just wanted to go out and have fun and play as good as I can. I was trying to think of it as any other tournament, where you get a little bit of nerves on the first hole and then they go away.

"Starting off strong was super helpful for that — my mental game was very strong."

She began with a birdie on the par-4 first hole, with a seven-foot putt.

After "really good par saves" on the third and fourth holes, she made birdies on Nos. 5, 6 and 7. She hit out of a greenside bunker to six feet on the par-5 fifth, rolled in a seven-footer on the sixth and lagged an eagle try on the seventh for a tap-in bird. A birdie on the par-5 12th got her to 5-under.

"The putting worked for me today," she said. "Having those six- and seven-footers drop really helps keep my confidence strong."

She said the course was a little longer and "the pins were tough," compared to how it has generally played in non-LPGA Tour rounds.

"It's not a lot different from college golf in how they set up the court, but the atmosphere is a lot different," she said. "It was fun being a part of it."

Her brother, Tim, a 22-year-old recent OSU grad three days away from starting work at Nike, served as her caddy. He'll be a design engineeer in footwear.

"He's a great caddy," she said.

Her parents and grandparents were among those following her on Thursday.

Slama, a kinesiology major with thoughts of graduate school, played with Robyn Choi of Australia and Amelia Lewis of Jacksonville, Florida. Slama said she knew of Choi because she plays for the Colorado Buffaloes.

The same threesome will tee off Friday at 9:16 a.m., in the final grouping of the morning off No. 10.

"It's a fun group," Slama said.

It may or may not be an afternoon of close scoreboard watching for Slama, who presumably would make the cut with a second round close to par.

On Wednesday night, she went home to Salem and was able to sleep in her own bed.

On Thursday night, facing the early Friday tee time, she went to a nearby Portland hotel.

As for her weekend accommodations, "we'll see," she said with a smile.

It all depends on what transpires in round two.

"Whatever happens, happens," she said. "My goal is to have fun, play my game and hopefully have fun."

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