Tradition-rich Kraft Nabisco provides history, excitement

Stacy Lewis jumps into water
Photo Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Stacy Lewis (second from left), caddie Travis Wilson (L), sister Janet Lewis (C), mother Carol Lewis (second from right) and father Dale Lewis take the traditional jump following Stacy's victory.

April 3 2013, Mick Elliott
RANCHO MARAGE, Calif. -- One travel route through the Palm Springs area for golf fans attending Thursday’s opening round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship at Mission Hills Country Club is to drive west on Frank Sinatra, hang a right on Bob Hope Drive, go past Gerald Ford and Ginger Rogers Roads and then turn left on Dinah Shore.
 Say this for the first major championship of the season: Nobody in women’s golf gets started with a flashier drive.
 “We all know the celebrities come down to Palm Springs,” LPGA Hall of Fame great Annika Sorenstam, a three-time winner of the event, said. “They make the tournament the way it is through the years with Dinah Shore and her friends.
 That would be a certified, tradition-rich, one-of-a-kind big deal.
Got pizzazz?
 Slowly but persistently, like the steady drip of water imprinting a stone, the event that began in 1972 and became notable as the Diana Shore Winner’s Circle has distinguished itself with moments and accomplishments that others cannot touch.
 From the now-traditional “Champion’s Leap” into the 18th green-side Poppie’s Pond, started by Amy Alcott in 1988, to Sorenstam’s three victories, to 18-year-old Morgan Pressel in 2007 becoming the youngest major winner, to Yani Tseng “jinxing myself” by touching the trophy before losing a final-round lead to Stacy Lewis in 2011, to last year’s 18-inch missed putt on the 72nd hole by I.K. Kim, this is the LPGA event that packs true mystique.
 “I love coming here,” American Paula Creamer said. “The tradition and everything behind the event, it’s one of the best. That’s why it’s been around for so long.”
 Nothing, however, has come to better define the KNC than the champion’s splashdown.
 You might even suggest that it’s a tradition like no other.
 “I think that jump is as famous as the green jacket for us,” Natalie Gulbis said. “Everybody wants to jump in that pond. It's something that makes this event cool and different. We all look at it alongside the 18th green wanting to be jumping in.

“Look at the photos displayed in the media room this week. You don't have shots of players hitting into the 18th green. You have all the jumps, so that's what makes this event something extra special.”
 It started with impulse. Overpowered by emotion after her final and winning putt, Alcott turned to caddie Bill Kurrie and  said, “Let it rip.” Hand-in-hand, they both made a spontaneous rush into the water.
  Since then, some splashes have been better than others, although all memorable in their own way. When Pat Hurst won in 1998, she only waded into the water because she couldn't swim. In 2002, Sorenstam went only knee-deep because she was holding hands with the young daughter of her caddie. Karrie Webb did a cannonball. When Lewis won in 2011 she  went in with caddie, Travis Wilson, and her sister, mother and father joining.  Unfortunately, Lewis'  mother, Carol, landed awkwardly close to the bank and broke her fibula.
It doesn’t seem to matter.  Everybody wants in.
 “My five-year-old cousin came out in the pro-am (Tuesday) and she was like, ‘Can we go in that lake?’ ” Gulbis said. “I said, ‘No, they don't let you just go into it. You have to win first.’  She said, ‘Why don't you win so we can go in the lake on Sunday?’ "
  It’s the exact question a number of players are asking themselves this week. Answers will begin coming Thursday when the first twosomes go off at 7:10 a.m. PDT.
 Expectations are high for a lasting impression. Lewis, who, after back-to-back wins last month, became the first American since Cristie Kerr in 2010 to hold the world No. 1 ranking, arrived talking about her confidence and comfort. Norway’s Suzann Pettersen announced that “everything I have done so far this season is in preparation for coming here.” Former No. 1 Yani Tseng, who held the top spot for 109-consecutive weeks and won in 2010, wants another KNC title.
 “One time is not enough,” Tseng said of the winner’s dip. “I got to do it again.”
 She’s even thinking ahead.
 “A friend gave me this snorkeling glass, so if I win this week, I’ll wear my snorkel glass to jump in.”
 But first, there’s the hard part -- 72 holes (at least) of golf.
 “It’s one of those courses you just come to that just suits your eye,” said Pettersen. “A lot of the tee shots, I like what I see. You have to shape the ball somehow off the tee, and when the greens firm up you have to be able to hit certain shots to hold certain pin  locations.”
 The par-72 will play at 6,738 yards this week. There are elevation changes and large, troubling bunkers. Accuracy is rewarded, but not overly so. Shot makers are tested.
 “I think the people that believe they’re going to win can win this week,” Tseng said. “Every player has a chance to win. If they believe in themselves, I think they can win the tournament.  I think a lot of people are going to have a chance to win this week.”
 And make a historical splash.

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