A Fan's View of the Kraft Nabisco Championship

Lizette Salas
Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Lizette Salas hits her tee shot on the third hole during the third round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship at Mission Hills Country Club on April 6, 2013 in Rancho Mirage, California.

When you write a blog for a website, as I do here, you cannot help but wonder if anyone actually reads it. Today I got an answer to that question.

I have at least ONE reader, and that is MIKE WHAN, LPGA COMMISSIONER.

Mike called me today in response to my last blog about the KNC, taking Stacy to task a bit. As I said in the blog, as a Disabled Vet, I understand better than most the fire it takes to overcome the type of adversity that Stacy has faced in her life. I agree with Judy Rankin’s comment that she has not received nearly the credit she deserves for reaching the pinnacle of her profession. ‘ nuff said.

What I want to say here is twofold:

1)   THANK YOU MIKE for taking the time to reach out to me, just your basic LPGA fan, and talk about the issues that I raised. Your phone call came as a complete shock.

2)   Ladies and Gentlemen, with Mike Whan at the helm, the LPGA is in VERY VERY fine hands.

We are all looking forward to a hugely successful season, and thank you all for reading this.

Fairways and Greens
Fred Brattain

Mission Hills Country Club, Sunday 4/7/13

Another gorgeous day in Rancho Mirage. Joni and I arrived early and followed Lindsey Wright (first off again), off the first tee. This time Lindsay pulled her tee shot into the left rough, leaving herself a really down lie in 4” grass. As she swung through the ball, lifting it easily from the rough, allowing it to bounce before the green and roll to the center her caddie shouted “Get in the hole!” which cracked up everyone.

We went out to the second green. The second hole is a LONG par 5, and watched several groups come through, then went to our usual spot at 6. Everyone who is a regular there was expecting us to be there early, so we really had no choice (grin). While we were walking down the 6th fairway, we got a whole different perspective regarding the difficulty of the approach shot into that small green.

We parked ourselves and settled in to watch the groups come through for the day. This is STILL the best way to watch a tournament, because you get to see everyone. Several of our friends showed up, and we had a GREAT time chatting and interacting with the players.

Pernilla Lindberg birdied 6 for the second day in a row. As they were leaving the green I said, “That’s twice in a row” to her and got an enthusiastic “YEA” from both her and her caddie.

Julieta Granada chipped in from the front of the green. The pin was down front and slightly left, which caused all sorts of problems for the players today. Chipping from below the hole many times caused the ball to check up, and being above the hole was absolutely no picnic.

Ayako Uehara, who demonstrated her exceptional short game at the KIA Classic two weeks ago, continued with her amazing chipping and pitching exhibition. I want her short game (grin).

What I want to talk about now is the way that players interact with the fans. This is a good news/bad news comment, but I have been a HUGE fan of the LPGA since the 60’s, and have missed no more than 4 or 5 of the Dinah Shore/KNC tournaments in its history. I have had the honor of playing with several of the ladies on tour both past and present. So these comments come from a place of serious concern for the tour that I love so much.

This is the exception rather than the rule, as most of the ladies are very gracious. HOWEVER, there are some who for whatever reason, including playing poorly that day, or any other irrelevant excuse, refuse to acknowledge the fans when they are greeted at a green with applause and cheers. Ladies, if this is you, there is NO excuse for this. The only reason you get to play this game for a living is that we love to watch you do it. Pure and Simple. Without the fans you wouldn’t have the opportunity to PLAY A GAME for a living, and be very well compensated for it.

Example of how it SHOULD BE DONE. Cristie Kerr, who is noted for her steely demeanor, intense competitive drive and sometimes almost tunnel-vision focus, comes to 6 today. She walks up, acknowledges the crowd and lines up a snake of a 15’ downhill putt. She stalks it in her usual manner, not a hint of emotion on her face, looking almost angry. She steps up and strokes the putt down the hill. ¾ of the way to the hole, she starts to walk, and we start to cheer, convinced the ball will drop.

It doesn’t.

She turns to her caddy with “WOW” clearly on her lips. She taps in. As she is leaving the green, I say to her “Cristie, we all thought that was in the hole, too.” She stops, smiling and laughing a little and says “Premature walk on my part”, and walks up to seven thanking people for the applause.  Cristie is not someone you would normally think of as having a sense of humor on the course, but this is the second time that we have interacted with her while she is playing, and she has always shown a wry sense of humor about this game.

Don’t get me wrong. No one expects the ladies to be laughing and dancing walking off the green with a bogey or worse. But acknowledging the fan support is an integral part of their job as professionals.

Example of how IT SHOULD NOT BE DONE. I LOVE the fact that Stacy Lewis is #1 in the world. Her struggles and triumphs over scoliosis are the stuff of legend. She is a fighter and a terrier when it comes to this game. As a disabled veteran, I understand better than most what she has gone through to achieve the success that she has. HOWEVER, it saddened me to hear reports from several of our friends that when Stacy walked yesterday down the walk in front of the 18th green to a rousing ovation, she was so caught up in not playing well, so mad at herself (apparently), that she did not acknowledge the fans.

Stacy, or anyone who knows her, please pass on this message.

WE LOVE YOU, we are THRILLED that you have achieved the stature that you have, and while I love the international flavor of the tour, I am being honest when I say I love having an American Lady at the top of the world rankings. But when I hear from a friend, “I was thrilled that we have an American at Number One, until I saw how she was acting yesterday, now I don’t care if she gets kicked off the top spot” from MORE THAN ONE PERSON, it is time to re-examine what it means to be the LPGA #1 in the world.

WE love you and want to follow you with the same passion that you show when you play, but please don’t forget that we want to feel a connection with you, and when you don’t show that, we don’t follow.

Mission Hills Country Club, Saturday 4/6/13

OK, Folks, quiz time.

Name the longest running women’s professional sports organization in the world…. LPGA

Name the second longest golf tournament competed on the same course, The Kraft Nabisco Championship (second only to the Masters at Augusta).

I know a lot of golf fans are gearing up for The Masters, but if you have your eyes looking too far ahead, you are missing the most prestigious trophy available in women’s golf.

As is our usual, Joni and I arrived early enough this morning at Mission Hills to walk out with the first group. The first “group” was Lindsey Wright playing by herself. I don’t know if she has a choice of having a pacer  or not, but it always seems weird for someone out there by herself. We watched several groups come through the first hole, which had a rather vicious down-front pin placement. We then went over and took up our usual spot on the 6th green.

If you are one of those who has watched tournaments by following one group or one player, I strongly recommend you simply camp at a hole for the entire round and watch everyone come through. GREAT way to watch a tournament.

So, as we sat at 6, carefully positioning ourselves to be shaded as the day grew hotter (the weather was perfect), we said hello to the marshals and course workers who are there every year. As the day progressed, several of our friends stopped by, or hung out for a while.

One of the really cool things about this tournament is seeing all the people that you have seen at the same hole for the last 5 years or so. We catch up on grandkids and all sorts of stuff while enjoying watching these great ladies play the #1 handicap hole on the course.

For those of you who do not know the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills in Rancho Mirage, CA, the hole is a dog leg left requiring a precision drive over fingers of a lake to a landing area that invites you to hit the ball down the slope into the water. Then you are faced with a mid-iron approach over the lake to a smallish green which is sloped back to front in a manner which makes strong people nervous. (grin).

The hole today was in a place we do not recall seeing it on a Saturday, and it was NASTY. Seemingly benign, in the middle of the green, a three foot putt from either side of the hole was breaking about 1½ feet. Putts from above the hole were treacherous and hard to stop. Putts from below the hole encountered several very subtle breaks right around the hole. Not a good pin placement for someone coming through feeling they HAD TO MAKE A 3.

We saw EVERYTHING today sitting there. Birdies including a bomb by Cristie Kerr (more about that later), and a couple of doubles. Some balls found the water, but most did not. The challenge was putting your ball where you had an actual chance at making the putt. If the cup had been ½” bigger, there would have been tons of birdies. Lots of the ladies just missed, and given the subtleties of the slopes, it was not surprising. As I have said before, you want to run out and help them. In this case the message would have been “It breaks more than you think it does”.

As the groups came through, I want to mention a couple of things that make the LPGA the great entertainment value that it is, along with the incredible golf these ladies play.

Natalie Gulbis, just back after a bout of malaria, playing well for the first time in a while, walks onto the green to the usual applause and stops and says “Thank you” loud enough for everyone to hear. Natalie has always understood that she is one of the premier faces of the LPGA, regardless of how she is playing, and she carries that mantle with dignified humility.

We had the pleasure today of introducing some golfing friends to the LPGA. They have watched a lot of the men, and been to a few men’s tournaments, but we got them interested in coming out, and they joined us on 6. By the way, they said they had a blast.

The LPGA as a whole understands that we, the fans, make the event. What is even better is the ladies playing on tour understand this also. After a great birdie putt on 6, JiYai Shin was walking to the seventh tee and stopped to give Joni a high five when Joni congratulated her on the birdie.

7 birdies out of 73 players is quite a testament to how this hole was playing.

When Cristie Kerr hit her tee shot and left it down right about 30 feet from the hole, I looked at Jerry and said, “She is one of the 3 best putters in the world, and the best on the LPGA tour by far.” I am not talking stats because Cristie doesn’t always give herself a chance to make birdies, but there are very few people who are better putters.

After stalking the putt in her usual style, she stepped up and rolled in the putt of the day for a birdie. It’s nice to be proven right (grin).

If you are a golfer, there are a couple of things you could copy from Cristie that will make you a much better putter. I wish I could bottle what she has, because I would sell it and make a fortune (grin)..

I do NOT recommend that you stalk putts to the extent that she does, because we aren’t playing at that level and it isn’t as important. However, what I WOULD recommend (and remember I teach this game for a living), is that ONCE SHE DECIDES what to do with the putt, she steps up, lines up and hits the putt within no more than 5 seconds.  Everyone who freezes over a putt is just thinking too much, when your thinking should have been done prior to ever addressing the ball.

Lizette Salas, local girl with a great back story is playing In Bee Park (last year’s leading money winner) head to head in the final group. Even though Lizette (her fans call her Lily) is just in her second year, she has established herself as a force to be dealt with. Angela Stanford tore it up today and is in contention heading into tomorrow also. The leaderboard is crowded, and it will be a great day tomorrow.

Topics: Fan Blog, ANA Inspiration

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