2012 Navistar LPGA Classic First Round Notes and Interviews

Navistar LPGA Classic
Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, Capitol Hill, The Senator
Prattville, Alabama
September 20, 2012
First-round notes and interviews

Lexi Thompson -9, Rolex Rankings No. 25
Lizette Salas -7, Rolex Rankings No. 146
Hee Young Park -7, Rolex Rankings No. 38
Stacy Lewis -6, Rolex Rankings No. 3
Amanda Blumenherst -6, Rolex Rankings No. 175
Alena Sharp -5, Rolex Rankings No. 276

Lexi Thompson added another line to her ever-growing résumé on Thursday at the Navistar LPGA Classic where she tied the tournament record and shot a career-low 9-under-par 63 to take the first round lead. Thompson, who last year shot 17-under-par 271 as a 16-year-old in 2011 to become the youngest winner in LPGA Tour history in Prattville (a record that was broken in August by 15-year-old Lydia Ko), returned to the site of her triumph with a vengeance during first round play, carding a bogey-free day with nine birdies to take a two-shot lead.

“It feels really good getting a first round of 63 under my belt, but you have to take it one shot at a time,” she said. “Can’t get ahead of yourself in this game, so just going to hope to play like I did today for the next three rounds.”

Thompson bettered her previous career-best of 65 – which she most recently shot in the final round of the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic – by two shots and had a decent look at birdie on the 18th hole, which she missed, to shoot 62.

“I wasn’t thinking about the course record, I was just trying to put a good stroke on it like every other putt,” she said.

The teenager holds a two-shot lead over 2011 CME Group Titleholders champ Hee Young Park and LPGA rookie Lizette Salas, who also carded a career-low, at 7-under-par 65. Five players, including Rolex Rankings No. 3 Stacy Lewis, are tied for fourth at 6-under-par 66.

Waffle superstitions… Before each round of the 2011 Navistar LPGA Classic Lexi Thompson found herself eating breakfast at a Waffle House down the street from the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. It seemed the nourishment contributed to her first place finish, so it’s not a surprise the 17-year-old has superstitions about the restaurant. Just before heading to the golf course this morning, she stopped to get a plate of egg whites, wheat toast, hash browns and bacon prepared specially by Thompson’s favorite cook, Valerie Perry.

Perry served her last year and although the cook was supposed to have this week off, she made sure she would be here to serve the defending champion. Thompson says the restaurant’s environment makes for an enjoyable morning as she gets in tournament mode for the day.

“Well Valerie, she's the main cook there and she sings so it keeps me relaxed, keeps me laughing before my round, so it's a good atmosphere.” Thompson said.

Perry is known for singing some of the top-40 artists like Justin Beiber and Katy Perry while cooking; however, she tends to replace words with food items.

“She sings Justin Bieber ‘Baby’ pretty good, but puts ‘bacon’ instead of ‘baby,’” Thompson said. “It's pretty funny.”

Thompson plans to carry the tradition this week, seeing that the meal yielded a 9-under finish for the day giving her a two-stroke lead heading into the second round.

On the rise… Lizette Salas headlines a group of four rookies finishing in the top-10 on the first day of the Navistar LPGA Classic. She carded a career-low 65 to tie for second along with Hee Young Park, holding the lead for several hours before fellow rookie Lexi Thompson took over with a 9-under 63.

This isn’t the first time the Symetra Tour graduate has been in contention this year, as she had lurked around the top of the leaderboard at the U.S. Women’s Open. After a few solid rounds, Salas was disappointed in her final round performance, carding an 80 to finish with a tie for 32nd. But despite the frustration Salas sought after Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez for some support and advice.

“It's just great to have the support from a Hall of Famer who you've looked up to not only on the golf side but outside of the golf course who you look up to, how she holds herself, her attitude towards life in general,” Salas said. “She's just a great role model not just for me but for all the young players out here.”

Lopez reached out to Salas shortly after her debut on the Symetra Tour and has served as a mentor to the rookie ever since. She also followed Salas during every round of the U.S. Women’s Open. Salas says the support from one of the LPGA greats is “a dream come true.”

Displeased? It’s hard for the casual golf fan to understand how shooting 66 could be unsatisfying. But for Rolex Rankings No. 3 Stacy Lewis, shooting 6-under-par 66 and leaving birdies on the course is tough to take.

“It was actually a pretty frustrating 66,” Lewis said. “I had a ton of putts go right over the edge and just lip out.”

The Texan registered six birdies on a bogey-free day. She can reclaim the No. 2 spot on the Rolex Rankings from an absent Na Yeon Choi this week. Lewis is also seeking to complete the Alabama Slam this week following her victory in the spring at the 2012 Mobile Bay LPGA Classic, just a couple hours south on I-65. To date this season, Lewis has 13 top-10 finishes and two victories. She took over as top-ranked American on the Rolex Rankings following her win at the ShopRite LPGA Classic in June and currently leads the race for 2012 Rolex Player of the Year, which was last won by an American by Beth Daniel in 1994.

The Navistar LPGA Classic marks the last full field LPGA Tour event in 2012 and a number of players are fighting to get inside the top 100 on the money list to earn “exempt” status via Category 1 (1-80 on season-ending money list) or Category 11 (81-100 on season-ending money list) for 2013. Players on the first page of the leaderboard who can improve their 2013 status this week include:

Mi Hyang Lee (-6): currently 153rd on the money list/also 4th on the Symetra Tour’s Volvik Race for the Card
Wendy Ward (-6): currently 107th on the money list
Karlin Beck (-5): currently 149th on the money list
Dori Carter (-5): currently 115th on the money list
Alena Sharp (-5): currently 106th on the money list
Lorie Kane (-5): currently 90th on the money list

Takeover, the break’s over! During Friday’s second-round telecast, LPGA rookies Danielle Kang and Sydnee Michaels will participate in the third Golf Channel Takeover of the 2012 season. Kang will operate an on-course microphone, while Michaels will handle graphics in the production truck. Second-round coverage of the Navistar LPGA Classic airs from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Eastern.

Earlier this season at the Kia Classic, Christina Kim (play-by-play), Brittany Lincicome (producer) and Stacy Lewis (tower camera) took part in the first Golf Channel takeover. In June, Belen Mozo (producer) and Azahara Munoz (director) participated in the second takeover.

Tweet of the day… “My clubs have just been delivered. OMG. 50 minutes before my tee time. #speechless pic.twitter.com/bf0DXyfh” -- @DanielleKang, whose golf bag was lost by an airline this week.
Quote of the day… “Well, planning the wedding has been giving me anxiety attacks, so probably shooting 66 feels better, but I'm more excited to get married and then for the actual wedding.  But the planning part, it's getting ‑‑ it's making me too crazy.” – Amanda Blumenherst, on planning her December wedding.

 

Lexi Thompson, Rolex Rankings No. 25

MODERATOR:  I'd like to welcome our current leader, Lexi Thompson, into the interview room today.  Tell us, Lexi, what did you have for breakfast this morning?
LEXI THOMPSON:  Well, I went to Waffle House per tradition, had egg whites, wheat toast and hash browns and bacon.  Good breakfast.

MODERATOR:  Do you find yourself going back to the Waffle House because it's the tradition from last year and it gave you luck?
LEXI THOMPSON:  Yeah, I'm definitely superstitious in that way, but Valerie, she's the main cook there and she sings so it keeps me relaxed, keeps me laughing before my round, so it's a good atmosphere.

MODERATOR:  Well, you just carded your career low, 63, and also tied for the tournament record.  Take us through your round today and what was working well for you.
LEXI THOMPSON:  Yeah, well, that's the record low for me.  My record was 65 here before, so I'm pretty excited about this golf course.  But the whole day I was just really consistent.  I think I hit 17 greens and dropped a good amount of putts, but it gave me a lot of confidence.  Hopefully it'll go the same way tomorrow. 

MODERATOR:  You put yourself in good position to defend your title.  How does that feel and how nice would it be to have two wins here where your career kind of began?
LEXI THOMPSON:  It feels really good getting a first round of 63 under my belt, but you just have to take it one shot at a time, can't get ahead of yourself in this game overall, so just going to hope to play like I did today for the next three rounds.

MODERATOR:  As a rookie, you're 28th on the money list.  You've obviously solidified the fact that you'll keep your card next year.  How nice is it to know that you have that and you don't have anything to worry about really for the rest of the year?
LEXI THOMPSON:  It's really nice to know that.  I'm going into every event really relaxed and just free swinging, but to know that I have my card solidified it, definitely more relaxing on the course.

Q.  You put yourself in a ‑‑ on 18, you wanted to be underneath the hole.  Did you think you had a good chance to make that to set the course record, or did you even know that would have been the course record?
LEXI THOMPSON:  I didn't know that would be the course record, but I knew I left myself with a good putt, just didn't put enough speed on it, but it happens.  But I wasn't thinking about the course record, I was just trying to put a good stroke on it like every other putt.

Q.  Did you at least drive yourself up here this year?
LEXI THOMPSON:  No, I didn't.  I came from England, so it would be a little hard.

Q.  You're the defending champion and you kind of came in here today super confident 
LEXI THOMPSON:  I don't know about that, but like I said, you just can't get ahead of yourself.  It's just one round so far.  You just have to go in with the same attitude the next three rounds and hope for the best.  I love being here in Alabama.

Q.  You've talked before about how comfortable you are on this course.  How well does this course suit your game?
LEXI THOMPSON:  I'm really comfortable out here.  I hit a lot of drivers and take pretty aggressive lines.  It definitely rewards good shots out here and that's what I like.  Build up your confidence and just try to make birdies.

Q.  Obviously, Lexi, you have done so well here.  What are the condition of the greens compared to last year?  Have you noticed a difference?
LEXI THOMPSON:  The greens are a little quicker than last year, the last few years, but they're rolling so pure.  The whole golf course, even with the rain it probably made it softer obviously but definitely a lot better.

Q.  You mentioned The Waffle House; Valerie, was it?
LEXI THOMPSON:  Yeah, Valerie Perry, yeah.  She's a cook there and she sings while she's cooking so she puts food in the words of the songs.

Q.  What does she sing?
LEXI THOMPSON:  She sings Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, everything, new songs.  She's got some Christmas carols going on this week.

Q.  What's your favorite song of hers?  
LEXI THOMPSON:  She sings Justin Bieber "Baby" pretty good, but puts "bacon" instead of "baby."  It's pretty funny.

MODERATOR:  Lexi, we've got nearly the entire rookie class in the field this week.  Lizette set is 2 behind you and Sydnee Michaels is also in the Top 10.  Would it surprise you at all if there's a rookie win this week?
LEXI THOMPSON:  No, I wouldn't be surprised at all.  There's a lot of great players in the rookie season this year, so I wouldn't be surprised.  Everybody's a really hard worker out here and it's top competition.

MODERATOR:  How do you approach the rest of this weekend?  You've put yourself in a pretty decent lead, so how are you going to just approach the rest of the week?
LEXI THOMPSON:  Just go in relaxed and confident like I did today and just focus on one shot at a time and just hope for the best.  That's all I can do.

Q.  Are you going to go back to Waffle House as an everyday thing now?
LEXI THOMPSON:  Yeah, I've got to.  I went there this morning, so I have to tomorrow.

Q.  How nice is it to have your dad watching?
LEXI THOMPSON:  I like how he's watching me and he's here supporting me.  I definitely love that.  Me and him have made a great team and he’s great support. But now it’s me and my new caddie.

Q.  Since you're going back in the morning, are you going to request Valerie to work?
LEXI THOMPSON:  She'll probably be working.  She told me that she'd have this week off, but she's like, oh, no, I have to be there to support Lexi.  She'll definitely be there, I would hope so.

 

Hee Young Park, Rolex Rankings No. 38

MODERATOR:  We'd like to welcome co‑leader Hee Young Park into the interview room at the Navistar LPGA Classic.  Shot 65 today, 7‑under par, no bogeys.  Tell us about your day.
HEE YOUNG PARK:  It was pretty nice weather, like nothing wind compared to British last week, you know, so it was good weather.  And I didn't play last year.  Two years ago it was really firm greens and fairway compared to this year like really soft so I can play more aggressive.  And then putting, putting kind of actually really confidence, like I made a lot of like 10‑, 15‑footer, and then today I made like (indiscernible), which is good.  That's why I play more aggressive with birdie putt and made it.  And then also my actually goal was hit the fairway and the green all day, and then I just missed the one green and maybe one missed fairway or something, pretty good, so it worked.

MODERATOR:  That's pretty good.  So you've got three top 10s this year.  You won for the first time at the season‑ending event last year, the CME Group Titleholders.  Is it hard to get that second win?
HEE YOUNG PARK:  I think so.  I mean, every win like tough but people are more like expected (indiscernible.)  I want to, but you know, I want to win and not really used to get a win, they're focused on the (indiscernible) and then patient and more focus on the golf rather than looking at the (indiscernible.)

MODERATOR:  What was the best thing you did after you won last year?  Did you buy anything crazy?
HEE YOUNG PARK:  Last year I bought the house before the win, so that really helped so I think that house really love the house for me.

MODERATOR:  Where is it?  In Orlando?
HEE YOUNG PARK:  Yeah, in Orlando.  I didn't choose big house because I didn't expect to win like really soon, but still nice condo so I really like it.  No, I didn't buy yet.

MODERATOR:  So have you done anything recently, any big purchases before this week?  A car?  A boat?
HEE YOUNG PARK:  Maybe a car, why not?  Convertible open car.

MODERATOR:  Just talk about the next three days.  Right now you're in great position, you're one shot ahead.  How do the next three days look for you?
HEE YOUNG PARK:  My plan, my thinking are same, hit the fairway and then green, and then if I try to no bogeys round, this would have been perfect.  And then I checked the weather this week, it's pretty good like first round today, so I'm trying to just keep in fairway and green, same thing.

Q.  You mentioned buying a house.  What went into house hunting and how much fun was that?  What was that experience like?
HEE YOUNG PARK:  I mean, like last three years ‑‑ this is my fifth year on Tour and last three years I didn't have a house, which is kind of (indiscernible) in a way.  I golfed and stayed at the hotel, and then last year I finally bought the house and then one of the players, Sun Young Yoo, she recommended ‑‑ she right opposite the condo and then I picked another LPGA player living there so that's why I choose that.

Q.  About 10 minutes from here Hyundai Motor has a plant, so there are lots of Koreans in the Montgomery area, so should they come out and cheer you on?
HEE YOUNG PARK:  Yeah, probably.

 
Lizette Salas, Rolex Rankings No. 146

MODERATOR:  We'd like to welcome Lizette Salas to the interview room at the Navistar LPGA Classic.  You're in the clubhouse lead right now or tied for the clubhouse lead at 7‑under par 65, which is your career low round on the LPGA Tour.  Congratulations. Just take us through the round, what worked for you today.
LIZETTE SALAS:  You know, I think staying in play was key for me.  I putted well at Kingsmill and I missed fairways, which is typically not my game, and that was a whole goal this week is to stay in the fairway and just stay out of trouble and hit fairways and greens all day.  And my wedge game was really good today and rolled in the putts that I needed to, and I occasionally dropped in a couple of long ones and I got up and down when I needed to.  Made a silly bogey on a par 5, which I was kind of upset at myself but just moved on from it, erased that from my memory and, you know, just had a lot of golf left.  And I started seeing camera guys coming up and I'm like, Uh‑oh, here we go.  You know, the nerves always kick in, so I just wanted to stay calm and did my thing, got up and down on 18 and it was a good solid day.

MODERATOR:  As a rookie, your 61st on the money list, which basically assures you of your card next year, inside the Top 80.  I know you've kind of come through the ranks, you were a star at USC, you played on the Symetra Tour, now as a rookie on the LPGA Tour, how nice is it to know, hey, I've got status next year, now I'm just playing for myself?
LIZETTE SALAS:  It's a satisfying feeling to know that I'm going to be out here next year because you just don't know what's going to happen out here and you've just got to take each day to the fullest and know that there are going to be some up‑and‑down moments.  I had a rough time in Kingsmill mentally, but I just know that I want to have a long career so I cannot get too impatient out here. 
I took the British Open off.  I went down to Georgia, took some time to myself and regrouped and came out here and did my usual boring golf, which I like to call it.  I'm just so happy it's finally clicking toward the end of the season when you really need to step it up.

MODERATOR:  Speaking of long careers, I know there's a Hall of Famer who you've always looked up to, Nancy Lopez, who had one of the best careers in LPGA history and she's sort of taken on a bit of a mentor role for you, she's reached out to you a few times.  Can you just talk about the impact of having a legend like Nancy Lopez on your side giving you some advice? 
LIZETTE SALAS:  Oh, it's just a dream come true.  She reached out to me right before my debut out on the Symetra Tour and she was following me at the U.S. Open and she calls me, she texts me.  I haven't heard from her in a while, but it's just great to have the support from a Hall of Famer who you've looked up to not only on the golf side but outside of the golf course who you look up to, how she holds herself, her attitude towards life in general.  She's just a great role model not just for me but for all the young players out here.

MODERATOR:  You were in contention earlier this year at the U.S. Open.  By the end of the week, probably not the finish you were looking for, but are you able to draw on being at the top of the leaderboard in a major this week or moving forward?  Does that experience help you?
LIZETTE SALAS:  It has helped me.  I went through ‑‑ obviously I shed tears on that final day at the U.S. Open, but I definitely learned from it.  I talked to Nancy about it the day after and it still bothers me, but I've learned from it and I just moved on.  It's eventually ‑‑ I don't want to say it's going to happen, but you just have to prepare yourself for those types of moments.  I talked to my friends and family, my agent, and they said, you know, this is probably the best thing that could have happened to you because you went through all the ups and downs at a U.S. Open, a major championship.  And so now I learned from that experience and time to move forward and I think I'm mentally strong after that.

MODERATOR:  We'll go with one more.  Talk about the rest of the week.  You shot 65 today.  Does that change the way you look at the next three days?
LIZETTE SALAS:  No, it does not change anything, it does not change my game plan.  Just going to go out there, take each shot for what it is and just try to make the best swing that I can and just not ‑‑ no expectations.  That's what I learned at USC from my coach, Andrea Gaston; go out there, have fun, smile, laugh, and hopefully no more tears.


Amanda Blumenherst, Rolex Rankings No. 175


Q.  66, ties your career low.  How does that feel?
AMANDA BLUMENHERST:  It's good.  I played well.  I hit the driver really solid and made some good putts, so just a very solid round of golf, which has been nice after kind of not the best of years.  It was a good way to kind of start ending the year.

Q.  What is it about this course that you think suits your game?
AMANDA BLUMENHERST:  Well, it's wide off the tee, which is good, it helps me swing a little bit freer.  And I think it just suits my eye off the tee and also the iron shots as well, so it's easy to hit it close.

Q.  Bogey on the last hole. Almost had it.  What were your thoughts after that?
AMANDA BLUMENHERST:  I really didn't know, I didn't know that was for my career low, but I just hit my ‑‑ I hit a beautiful drive and then my wedge.  I hit just left in the rough.  It wasn't an easy chip, so it wasn't like I hit a bad chip or gave it away there.  It was really my approach shot.

Q.  I know you have a wedding coming up in December. So what’s more funr, shooting 66 or planning your wedding?

AMANDA BLUMENHERST:  Well, planning the wedding has been giving me anxiety attacks, so probably shooting 66 feels better, but I'm more excited to get married and then for the actual wedding.  But the planning part, it's getting ‑‑ it's making me too crazy.

Q.  How are you balancing planning that and also playing, because you're going over to Asia, right?
AMANDA BLUMENHERST:  Yes.  My mom is helping me quite a bit and I have a cousin back in Indiana who's been doing a lot of work, too, so that's been great to have some helpers.  And then the weeks that I am home, it's crunch time.  And also there's a lot of stuff online, so I've been doing a lot of wedding plan via e‑mail.

 

Stacy Lewis -6, Rolex Rankings No. 3

MODERATOR:  All right.  I'd like to welcome Rolex Rankings No. 3 Stacy Lewis to the interview room here at the Navistar LPGA Classic.  6‑under par round, bogey‑free 66 got you one back of the lead right now.  Just walk us through your day.  Obviously conditions were ripe for scoring.
STACY LEWIS:  Yeah, it was.  It was really kind of ‑‑ it was actually a pretty frustrating 66.  I had a ton of putts go right over the edge and just lip out, so I mean it was pretty easy.  I think I missed one green all day.  The whole day was just really consistent and solid.  I hit it great.  There's no wind out there.  It was nice this morning and I think the hard part about today was the love bugs.

MODERATOR:  Just take us through your day and some of the better holes you had; obviously six birdies.  Any long putts, any chip ins, anything spectacular?
STACY LEWIS:  I mean, I think I got off to a good start.  I hit my wedge shot to about three feet on ‑‑ I started on 10 and hit it to three feet there.  I think kind of the key hole for me was 11, I drove in the bunker and had a bad lie and had to chip out and then made about a 12‑footer for par, so that really kind of got me going and kind of calmed things down.  I guess the shot of the day was probably 17, I almost made it, probably a couple inches away.

MODERATOR:  This week you've already put yourself in position for the Alabama sweep having won the Mobile Bay Classic.  How nice would it be to have two wins in Alabama under your belt this week?  I know you probably don't want to think that far ahead.
STACY LEWIS:  It would be nice.  You know, this course, the grasses and everything, it does remind you of Mobile a little bit.  I'm comfortable on Bermuda and a course like this, it's what I grew up on in Texas and I'm just comfortable here in the south, so it's nice to just get back home.

MODERATOR:  You've had three Top 10 finishes coming in this week, you've had 13 this season, two wins.  It's a little bit different than a lot of the players in the field this week who are fighting to keep their status for next year.  Just talk about how far you've come.  Right now you're second on the money list, you lead the Player of the Year ranking, you don't have to worry about every single day am I going to have membership next year.
STACY LEWIS:  Yeah, I mean that's ‑‑ I know, a couple of my friends are going through that and they're on that bubble of getting their card, and it's so hard to play that way.  Once you kind of secure your card, you're easy to just free it up and just go play golf.  It's hard to play when you're trying to make a cut or do anything like that.  All year I've just been trying to give myself chances to win.  Even if I have a bad day, I'm not thinking about the cut number, I'm not thinking about making the cut, it's more what am I going to do to give myself a chance to win, and that's really kind of for me the mindset that's changed over the last couple years.

MODERATOR:  Did you make any promises to your caddie this morning for a good round since it's his 40th birthday today?
STACY LEWIS:  No, I didn't.  We had some fun with him.  My coach went and bought some reading glasses and denture cream.  We got some gray hair dye for him, but he doesn't have any hair so that's kind of the funny part.  We had a little bit of fun with him, but it was a nice, stress‑free day for him so that was good.

Q.  What are the greens like out there?
STACY LEWIS:  I didn't play a practice round because of the travel.  The first time I played it was the pro‑am yesterday and I told the people I was playing with that the greens are the best that I've ever seen them since we've been coming here.  Last year they were new and kind of spots of them were good but it still hadn't quite taken yet, and they're unbelievable.  I mean, if you get the putt started on line, it's going to go in.  And they're fast, too.  They're pretty fast.  If you're above the hole, you're in trouble.  I don't know, they're perfect to putt on.  It's nice.


Alena Sharp, Rolex Rankings No. 276

Q.  Tell me about your round today, how it went.
ALENA SHARP:  It was very consistent, hit the ball extremely well; I think I only missed one fairway and one green.  Had a lot of opportunities for birdie, made putts early and just basically parred out my back nine.  It could have been a lot better, but I'm really happy with the way I started.

Q.  You're close to the top.
ALENA SHARP:  Yeah.  Haven't played well in the past couple months, so this is a great way to start the week.  One round at a time.

Q.  How are the conditions?
ALENA SHARP:  They were perfect.  It's beautiful out here.  The greens are in the best condition that we've ever played on.  The fairways are in great shape.  We had a lot of rain earlier in the week and it's dried out nicely.  Yeah, it's a great course to come play.  I love coming here to play.  The greens are just so pure to putt on, it's amazing.

Q.  How's the rest of the week look for you?  Any changes?
ALENA SHARP:  No, just do the same thing and really just say target focused, that's my main goal for the rest of the week.

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Topics: Notes and Interviews, Thompson, Lexi, Salas, Lizette, Sharp, Alena, Lewis, Stacy, Park, Hee Young, Blumenherst, Amanda [+]

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