Jun 28, 2010 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
For one year, the popular women’s professional golf tournament in Rochester got turned into a major as the LPGA Championship got contested at Locust Hill Country Club in Pittsford.
But it turned out to be more than a tournament. It proved, also, to be Christie Kerr’s coronation as, for the moment, the best player in the world.
Kerr tore up Locust Hill over four days in, arguabyly, as dominant a performance as has ever been seen in any women’s major. Her 19-under-par total of 269 beat the next-closest competitor, South Korea’s Song-Hee Kim, by an astonishing 12 shots.
Even Kerr considered the margin absurd. “Winning by maybe two or three (strokes) is great,” she said.”But winning by 12 shots is ridiculous. It’s obscene.I don’t think I could have played better.”
Not only did Kerr set a new record for margin of victory in the LPGA Championship (Betsy King prevailed by 11 in 1992), she became the first player in the tournament’s long history to post four rounds in the 60s, collecting a first-place check of $337,500.
In prevailing, Kerr passed Japan’s Ai Miyazato (who tied for third with Jiyai Shin after her own final-round 66) to earn the no. 1 spot in the Rolex World Rankings, a first in her career, something she has strived for.
“It means a tremendous amount,” Kerr said. “It’s something that I’ve wanted my whole life. It feels awfully good right now.”
Rochester came through, too. When the LPGA Championship’s previous sponsor, McDonald’s, pulled out after 2009, Wegmans, who has sponsored the long-running Rochester event in recent years, swooped in for the backing to bring it to Locust Hill.
Thus, high excitement was in the air when more than 140 players teed off on a windy Thursday morning. To bring Locust Hill up to major standards, some length was added (to 6,506 yards), fairways were narrowed and rough got taller, helped in no small part by early-week rains.
More rain arrived on Thursday afternoon, just as Kerr was starting out on her masterful run. At 32, Kerr has won 13 times on the LPGA Tour, including the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open title, and had just prevailed at the State Farm Classic in Springfield, Ill., just weeks before coming to Locust Hill.
With that good feeling, Kerr made just one bogey in the opening round and, with a 68, tied Stacy Lewis and Heon-Hwa Lee for the lead. With winds gusting to 25 miles per hour, just 19 players broke par, setting the tough tone for the rest of the week — for all but one player, anyway.
Midway through her second round on a sun-filled Friday, Kerr was five under, still amid a tightly bunched pack. What she did over the ensuing nine holes proved to be the tournament’s turning point.
A birdie at the 10th hole proved an appetizer, but the main course started with back-to-back birdies on 14 and 15, a long birdie putt holed on 17 and a six-iron on the tough, uphill par-four 18th to eight inches for yet another birdie.
That back-nine 32, and her 66 (the low round of the tournament to that point), vaulted Kerr to 10 under par, five shots ahead of Mika Miyazato and Inbee Park.There were still 36 holes to play, but someone had to make a move on Saturday, or Kerr would not get caught.
With rain arriving in the middle of the third round, Kerr saw her lead shrink to three over Miyazato on the 10th hole. But showing her toughness, Kerr rattled off three straight birdies from 11 to 13, offset a bogey on 14 with yet another birdie on 15, and closed in 69 to balloon to 13 under par.
This left Miyazato (who went three over the last seven holes), Azahara Munoz and Jimin Kang (a former Futures Tour winner in Syracuse) eight shots back. That margin set a 54-hole record for the tournament, and more records were to follow.
All that was left for Kerr was to make it around 18 holes on two feet in Sunday’s final round – and to see how the battle for second place would play out in the warmest, most humid conditions of the week.
Kim, who started the round at four under, won the battle with a solid 69 to finish two shots clear of Shin and Miyazato, who had overcome a first-round 76 to zoom back to a strong finish.
Still, it was Kerr’s show. After six straight pats to open
the final round, Kerr drained a birdie putt on 7, nearly reached the par-five 8th in two for another birdie, then tacked on birdies at 10, 13 and 15, all with irons close to the pin.
Nothing more was needed, but on the final hole Kerr still provided the exclamation point with a drive right down the middle and a laser iron to three feet as the packed grandstands roared with approval.
One more birdie putt fell, and Kerr had her victory, complete with champagne shower from her husband and fellow pro Natalie Gulbis. No one knows at this point whether the LPGA Championship will return to Locust Hill in 2011, but Kerr wouldn’t mind.