Sunday - March 28, 2010
As usual, Joni and I arrived before the first group teed off in the morning. Having spent all day at the 2nd hole yesterday, we were determined to find another venue from which to view the tournament. We always find some place to hang out and watch the entire field come through. This, in our opinion is the best way to watch a tournament.
Today we settled down at the 6th green. For those of you who didn't get to watch the tournament on the Golf Channel, the sixth is a short par 4 of 331 yards. The drive is off a hill to a narrow landing area followed by a sharp dogleg left of 90 ° to an elevated green heavily guarded by bunkers. The dog leg of the fairway is guarded by tall trees and heavy grass, so a good tee shot is critical to making this hole as easy as possible.
On the card, you would think this was an easy birdie, given the length of the hole, but it proved to be anything but that today. I don't know where it wound up ranking in difficulty over the course of the tournament, but with the small Poa Annua green and the elevation change from fairway to green, it was an exciting and interesting place to watch the best women players in the world.
We parked there prior to the first group coming through, and remained there for all 36 twosomes. The only drawback to our chosen location was the one-mile walk back to the nearest concession stand for our lunch. I would hope that, should the KIA Classic return to La Costa, the managers of the tournament would consider putting a concession stand at that end of the golf course. Let it be said that this was my ONLY gripe about a marvelous venue, with friendly people and great views of the golf course. Our overall experience was excellent.
So, as we sat and stood at the 6th hole, we were treated to some amazing shots, as well as some disappointing ones, but that is what golf is all about.
The ladies consistently kept the ball below the hole, but just as with yesterday, the greens played havoc with their ability to read the putts. Having grown up myself playing Poa Annua greens, I remarked more than once to fellow spectators, that when playing greens of pure Poa Annua, you have to have the nerve to run the ball into the hole aggressively. This is easier said than done when faced with the prospect of a 4 or 5 footer coming back. But those ladies who putted successfully didn't try to die the ball in the hole as you might on a bent grass or Bermuda grass green. As the ball loses speed, the Poa Annua grass will throw it off course, so aggressive putting was rewarded.
So, too, were great tee shots rewarded. Anna Grzebian got the first birdie of the day by hitting her approach from about 125 yds up the hill to about three feet and draining the putt. Michelle Wie hit a beautiful second shot, with a hard punch wedge which almost flew in the hole, bounced three feet past and then drew back to the side of the hole, leaving her about a 2 foot putt for a sure birdie. Of course, with her following (the largest of the tournament), went crazy when she sank the putt.
However, the shot of the day belonged to Juli Inkster who was also one of the few to get the ball all the way to the hole. However, Juli's second shot wound up in the rough to the right of the pin. With the Kikuya rough, there was simply no opportunity to putt from there, so she pulled out her lob wedge, flipped the ball into the air, and watched it roll out into the cup for a bridie three.
Twice this weekend, Juli has sunk difficult shots, the long putt on 2 on Saturday and the great pitch on 6 on Sunday when I have been present. Juli, if you are reading this, considering the obviously great effect I have on your short game, you might want to hire me to walk the course with you next week during the Kraft Nabisco Championships (grin).
Joni and I had a great time at the Kia Classic, the weather could not have been better and the people in charge ran a great tournament.
We are very much looking forward to reporting to you from the Kraft Nabisco Championship next week as Mission Hills hosts the first major of the LPGA season. See you there,
Saturday - March 27, 2010
La Costa Resort and Spa, Carlsbad, CA. A beautiful day dawned on the tournament course at La Costa, which is actually a combination of holes from both the South and North courses. It is a challenging 18 holes measuring just over 6600 yards. The greens are TINY, with lots of bunkering protecting these speedy greens measuring 11 on the Stimpmeter. The ladies of the LPGA have certainly had their work cut out for them this week.
For those of you who have followed my fan blogs before, you know that Joni and I like to find one hole at which to park for the day and watch everyone come through. Today that was hole #2, a medium length par 3 with heavy bunkering on the front and both sides. The green is sloped back to front, and has a significant run off area on the player's left as they view it from the tee. One of the beauties of watching a par 3 hole is that it is usually a very good indication as to who is playing well and who is not. The hole, depending on the tee placement, plays between 165 and 150 yards.
As usual, we started by following the first group off the first tee and were treated to a great show by one of the great players of the LPGA tour. Cristie Kerr, having struggled to make the cut on Friday, was paired in the first group off the tee with Louise Stahle of Sweden. Louise teed off first and hit a beautiful high draw down the right side of the fairway, leaving herself a short iron into the first green. With the pin tucked way back left behind a bunker, she lofted a short iron into the green and left herself about a 10 foot putt for birdie. Her birdie attempt slid by the hole, and she made the come-back putt for par.
Meanwhile Cristie hit a high hook dead left off the tee, leaving herself with massive tree trouble. She couldn't run a shot to the green because it is fronted by a lake, and she had no room to go over the trees. So, in the fashion of a true professional, and in a fashion that all amateurs would do well to emulate, she pitched out to the center of the fairway, hit a wedge to about 18 feet and calmly holed the putt to save her par. This was just the beginning of the fireworks and brilliant shotmaking that we were being treated to all day.
While some of the ladies I am going to mention here were not in contention, this does not take away from the fact that, to a person, they were trying hard all day long. One of the things that I love about the LPGA tour is that no one "phones it in" they try hard on every hole and are appreciative of the fans at every turn. Even those who were struggling today took time to acknowledge the fans and thank them for coming out. I honestly do not understand why more people are not fans of this marvelous group of ladies who can flat out play this game.
Sitting at the second hole, we were treated to a number of great shots. Meaghan Francella hit her tee shot into a bunker, where she had to stand with one foot in the sand, and one foot out, kneeling in the process, and calmly hit her bunker shot across the green to about 5'. The tricky 2nd green fooled her a bit and she two putted for a bogey. However, it was one of the best bunker shots I have ever witnessed. Christina Kim thrilled the gallery later in the day by holing out from another bunker on the same green. GREAT SHOT, and probably the shot of the day on the Golf Channel Coverage. Juli Inkster, whose career continues to amaze everyone, drained a 40' putt for birdie, and Katherine Hull and Jiyai Shin also made birdies on this hole.
From our perspective behind the green, we could see how the putts were breaking, and the hole placement was exceptionally difficult, not because of the break, but because the putts would all flatten out at the last minute around the hole. This fooled almost everyone who continually missed putts on the high side coming at the hole from every direction. As we watched the caddies pace off tomorrow's hole placement, we could easily envision the havoc that tomorrow's back left hole location was going to cause.
As I said earlier, these are small greens, most of them no bigger than a generously sized living room. With the Kikuya grass around the greens, even these ladies pros were having to chip the ball when no more than a foot or two off the greens. Normally, these shots would be played with a putter, but you simply could not do that out of the gnarly grass surrounding the greens.
One of the great joys of being at an LPGA event is the opportunity to interact with the players. These ladies continually play with an air of grateful dignity, showing the fans that they appreciate our presence, and showing the fans that they know they are privileged to play this marvelous game for a living. They also manage, for the most part, to play it with a sense of humor. Joni and Christina Kim exchanged high 5's after her hole out from the bunker on #2.
One of the other things that is so cool about these tournaments is the opportunity to interact with other fans. We spent most of the afternoon enjoying the company of a couple from Fresno, CA who had come down specifically for the tournament. Nice folks, fellow golfers, and, as is true with most of the fans, very educated as to the players and their resumes.
Amanda Blumenherst, the up and coming rookie on the LPGA tour , while not having a very good day, provided some excitement because a family of crows in a tree next to the second green got into a fight with other crows and proceeded to buzz her when she left the green. She handled this with a smile and a laugh as we all warned her to duck out of the way. Mark my words, within three years she will be Player of the Year.
Michelle Wie, almost fell victim to a rapid change in the wind direction today. As she hit her tee shot, the wind swirled and went dead against her. She barely cleared the front bunker, but proceeded to save par and move on.
As the afternoon wore on, the wind started to pick up an swirl through the golf course, playing havoc with club choices for most of the ladies.
Very few of the ladies posted a 4 under round today, which is the best of the day. Cristie Kerr, Anna Nordqvist, Shanshan Feng, the only Chinese player on tour all posted 4 under. Hee Kyung Seo was 3 under today and takes a 5 shot lead into the final round tomorrow. We shall see what happens. Sometimes the pressure of winning your first LPGA event gets to one of the ladies. But here's hoping she hangs on for her first LPGA victory. What a great story that would be, from sponsor's exemption to LPGA winner in one week.