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Diaz, with son by her side, among leaders at ShopRite

Laura Diaz, one of the first-round leaders at the 2018 ShopRite Classic, acknowledges the crowd at the completion of her round on Friday, June 8. Photos by Maryann Harlow Laura Diaz, one of the first-round leaders at the 2018 ShopRite Classic, acknowledges the crowd at the completion of her round on Friday, June 8.
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GALLOWAY _ Most kids aren't anxious to do chores.

Mow the lawn? Maybe tomorrow. Take out the trash? Later. Carry your mom's golf bag? Absolutely.

Toting a golf bag isn't a typical chore so 12-year-old Cooper Diaz was more than willing when his mother, Laura, needed a caddie for the 2018 ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The younger Diaz not only shouldered clubs, he did it well, receiving a grade of 95 for his effort, and Laura Diaz, relaxed by his presence, fired a 66 at the Stockton Seaview Resort's Bay Course in first-round play which commenced on Friday, June 8.

Anna Nordqvist and Celine Herbin also shot 66s and were tied for the lead with Diaz. Nine players, including New Jersey native Marina Alex, were in fourth with 67s. 

“I’m very happy with how I played,” Diaz said. “It’s more special because I have my son with me. It was great. He wasn’t nervous. He was perfect so it’s a calming influence. I think I spent more time worrying about him.”

Diaz, who joined the LPGA in 1999 and won two events in 2002, came to New Jersey with the intention of taking part in the pro-ams and figured she'd try to qualify on Monday, June 4. Two days before the qualifier, she got a berth in the 144-player field. On Sunday, Diaz made the trip north from Winston-Salem, N.C. in torrential rain. Instead of competing in the qualifier on Monday, Diaz practiced. She then took to the course, as planned, for the pro-ams on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. 

The 5-under-par showing by the 43-year-old Diaz was amazing considering the only other competitive golf she played this year was the qualifier for the U.S. Open three weeks ago, where she shot a 73 and failed to make the cut. Diaz was steady the entire way, carding birdies on the second, third, ninth, 12th and 17th holes.

Diaz appeared to be in command and enjoying herself but it was quite the opposite.

"I didn't feel good at all the whole day," Laura Diaz said. "No, I mean, obviously nerves are very present. I think that I'm not the first to say that the day that I come to the first tee and I'm not nervous, then that's the day I shouldn't play.

"You know, there was a little bit in the last few years that they really seemed to get to me more so I think my biggest challenge is figuring out how to not let them get to me. He's a huge asset in that because I can focus more on him than me."

It was quite an experience for the younger Diaz, although it wasn't the first time he has traversed a course with his mother. Last year in Wisconsin, Cooper caddied in 95-degree weather with 100 percent humidity when Laura Diaz played a practice round and he found the task difficult. 

"I have a caddie who has caddied for me the last few years, Pete, and he's awesome," Laura Diaz said. "I didn't want him to wait for me so I said to Cooper 'Listen, it's a flat golf course. The weather should be perfect.' (In Wisconsin), it was a real estate property so there were long walks between tees and greens. After an 18-hole practice round, he was like, 'Mom, I can't do this.' He was just honest about it. He's grown about four inches since last year and is playing a little bit more golf. TaylorMade was nice enough to send a bag that's comfortable for him to carry. He didn't complain not one time."

There was one little detail that Cooper, a three-sport athlete, neglected - cleaning her golf balls - yet his mother took it in stride. She spit on them to keep them clean.

"There's room for improvement," she said, jokingly.

Of course, that was nothing considering what Diaz, who has 58 career top 10s and earnings of $5.4 million, has endured over the last few years. In 2016, after Diaz took leave from the tour, she broke her leg while training for a marathon. Her 2015 season was unspectacular (she missed 16-of-18 cuts) and she contemplated not returning. That's why a day in the lead is such a thrill.

"It's just a lot of fun," she said. "I think the last few years have been hard. I came out with a little bit different perspective last year and just tried to play a little bit more relaxed."

Over the last few years, Diaz has devoted more time to her family. She watches Cooper compete in baseball, golf and basketball. Lilly, her 8-year-old daughter, is involved in swimming and soccer. Diaz is junior varsity coach for Cooper's golf team at St. Leo's Catholic School.

Nordqvist, the 30-year-old native of Sweden, whose birthday is Sunday, concluded her round on the par-5 ninth hole with a birdie, her fifth of the day. The ShopRite Classic champion in 2015 and 2016 and the runner-up in 2017, Nordqvist said she "struck the ball well" and "was patient."

"I have a lot of good memories from here," Lindqvist said. "It's a place that makes me happy."

Alex shocked herself because she normally does not do well here. On Tuesday, she worked with her putting coach and godfather, Charlie Cowell, to sharpen her short game. Alex felt she got up and down well and made good chips. And, she did it without family and friends looking on.

"No one is here yet," Alex said of her family and friends. "Maybe that's a good thing. Yeah, my mom is in New Jersey but my younger cousin, she's 9, she has a big dance recital tomorrow. They're going to do all that and the plan is to come down on Sunday."

***PHOTO GALLERY BELOW*** 

Last modified onSaturday, 09 June 2018 17:11
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