Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Magnolia Grove
First-round notes and interviews
May 13, 2010
Before most people had woken up Thursday, first-round leader and rookie Azahara Muñoz had holed out from the right bunker on 11 (her second) for birdie. She then made six more to shoot a bogey-free, 7-under 65 and lead the Bell Micro LPGA Classic at the Robert Trent Jones Trail at Magnolia Grove in Mobile, Ala. by one shot over Katherine Hull and Jee Young Lee. Muñoz was in the first group off at 6:50 a.m., a fact that helped her avoid a stiffening wind throughout the afternoon. But regardless of the elements, hitting fairways and greens is a good way to put oneself in position to shoot a good number. “The course is playing tough, but I just hit like every fairway and pretty much every green,” Muñoz said. “The only green I missed I made a bunker shot, so that was nice. I was playing really well. Actually, a lot of putts didn't go in, but like every putt I hit had a chance.”
Muñoz also opened well two weeks ago in Mexico at the Tres Marias Championship. She fired an opening-round, 8-under 65 there to stand at second alone. However, she faltered from there, shooting 76-79 to take herself out of the tournament before rebounding on Sunday with a 4-under 69. “The first round (at Tres Marias), I just went out there and played normal and I played really well, like today,” she said. “Then the second round, I started thinking of my swing. That was a big mistake, because that course is very technical; you don't get away with many mistakes.
“Obviously I was disappointed after a great first round, but I think I learned a lot. You know, I have to stay in the present, one shot at a time. Hopefully I can do that this week.”
Just one shot back is Australian Katherine Hull. Hull started 1-over through two holes but gave herself a swift kick in the pants after what she called a “stupid bogey” on 11 (her second). “After that I was like, ‘Right, game on,’” she laughed. “It got me fired up. I just played pretty solid from there on in.” “Pretty solid” equated to seven birdies and no more bogeys.
The Crossings Course at Magnolia Grove got a facelift since the 2008 Bell Micro LPGA Classic – some of the major changes include the redesign, softening and replanting of all 18 green complexes. “The golf course looks fantastic right now,” Hull said. “Obviously with newer greens they're playing a little firmer than what we're used to. I think the greens staff have done a great job getting it in the shape that it's in. I love the layout. I liked it back in '08, and I like it this year. So it's nice to be back…. The greens are rolling very true. You put a good stroke on it at the right speed, they'll go in.”
Muñoz’s opening round is particularly timely, as the 22-year-old Spaniard is the subject of Golf Channel’s “Rookie Spotlight” Friday. “I'm really embarrassed,” she joked. “I really don't like the cameras, but it was fun to do. Hopefully it will turn out good.”
Muñoz, playing in just her third tournament as an LPGA member, seems to have made the transition from amateur to professional seamlessly inside the ropes – she already won her pro debut at the LET’s Madrid Masters last year on a sponsor’s exemption. It’s outside the ropes where she’s still working. “Probably the biggest difference is that I have to do everything by myself,” she said. “I'm lucky I'm traveling with Pernilla Lindberg, which has been nice. But, you know, in college, coaches do everything for you and you travel with six other people. They kind of take care of you. I just follow people, and I don't care about anything. Here, I have to do my flight. I have to pretty much do everything myself. That's probably the biggest thing.”
Rolex Rankings No. 1 Jiyai Shin opened with a 2-under 70, as did No. 2 Ai Miyazato, who’s just .12 points behind.
Following the retirement of former Rolex Rankings No. 1 Lorena Ochoa, Rolex Rankings No. 4 Suzann Pettersen, one of the players among the conversation of who’s going to replace her, articulately summed up the post-Lorena race to No. 1. “It feels like we're in between two eras,” Pettersen said. “We've been so used to Annika being so dominating, then Lorena. Now it's just a bunch of us trying to fight and get the most out of each week. It's fun, but it just feels like we're kind of right in between two kind of eras of players.”
Rolex Rankings No. 5 Cristie Kerr, the top-ranked American and a 14-year LPGA veteran, had some thoughts on the scramble as well. “We're sad to see that she's gone,” Kerr said of Ochoa. “She was such a great personality and a great player for this tour, and very visible. You know, she probably single handedly brought three or four events to Mexico for this tour, so we're sad to see her go. But definitely when somebody exits there's always more room at the top. But, you know, there is still a lot great players: Jiyai Shin, Suzann Pettersen, Yani Tseng. There's a lot of great players ahead of me right now.
“It's gonna take a couple wins to vault me up there. I think I'm ready for that challenge, and that's why we play golf.”
Charlotte Mayorkas is making the most of her sponsor exemption. Invited to play by tournament sponsor Bell Micro, Mayorkas shot an opening round of 2-under par 70. Mayorkas was an LPGA rookie in 2007 after she finished second on the Duramed FUTURES Tour Money List in 2006. She played on the LPGA tour for three years, before losing her status. Her career best is a T12 at the 2007 Ginn Tribute Hosted by Annika.
Sybase Match Play Championship: The top-10 players after Friday of the Bell Micro LPGA Classic not already qualified will earn a spot in the field. As of Thursday, those 10 are: Azahara Muñoz -7, Janice Moodie -5, Amanda Blumenherst -4, H.J. Choi -4, Kris Tamulis -3, Irene Cho -3, Marianne Skarpnord -3, Shi Hyun Ahn -3, Lorie Kane -3 and Haeji Kang -3.
Of note: Defending champion Angela Stanford shot a 2-under 70 that included three birdies and one bogey…. Rookie Amanda Blumenherst opened with a 4-under 68 that included seven pars, six birdies, an eagle and four bogeys.
MODERATOR: Bogey free 7 under 65 today. Great round. Tell us a little bit about it.
AZAHARA MUÑOZ: Thank you. Well, you know, the course is playing tough, but I just hit like every fairway and pretty much every green. The only green I missed I made a bunker shot, so that was nice. I was playing really well. Actually, a lot of putts didn't go in, but like every putt I hit had a chance. So that was good today.
MODERATOR: Mexico was sort of famine or feast for you. Talk a little bit about what you took away from that?
AZAHARA MUÑOZ: You know, obviously I was disappointed after a great first round, but I think I learned a lot. You know, I have to stay in the present, one shot at a time. Hopefully I can do that this week.
Q. Which hole did you hole the bunker shot?
AZAHARA MUÑOZ: 11, which was my second.
Q. How far?
AZAHARA MUÑOZ: It was about maybe 15 yards. It was the right side bunker. I missed couple greens, but it was like by this much.
Q. Can you talk about the golf course and how it's playing and how the greens factored into it?
AZAHARA MUÑOZ: Well, I played in the morning so it wasn't too windy. I guess it's gonna be tougher in the afternoon. But it's playing OK now: not too long, not short. The greens are really firm. They didn't play as many pins short, so it was playable today. It was OK.
Q. Are you a morning person? Do you generally like teeing off before 7:00?
AZAHARA MUÑOZ: You know, I'm not a morning person at all. This morning I couldn't get up (laughing). But once I'm up and I get going and it's fine. But I'm not a morning person.
Q. Talk about what it was like. Irene (Cho) is also playing well and you are playing well. How much do you feel like you may have fed off each other just the way you were playing.
AZAHARA MUÑOZ: Actually it was really nice. I was playing with Irene, which I know from college, and then Stephanie (Louden). She was such a sweetheart, so we were talking all the time. It was really a nice round. So I think the three of us play well because of that, you know. We were having a good day.
Q. You're also the subject of Golf Channel's rookie spotlight today, right? Tomorrow. How does it feel to be a rookie and in the spotlight and then go out and start off with a round like that?
AZAHARA MUÑOZ: I don't know. I mean, I just I don't know. I’ve been practicing hard and I'm playing good, so I don't know. I mean, I love doing well. I'm really embarrassed. I really don't like the cameras, but it was fun to do. Hopefully it will turn out good.
Q. Can you talk about playing well in the first round at the last tournament and what happened there and how you can maybe avoid that pitfall this time?
AZAHARA MUÑOZ: Yeah. Well, I’ve been working on my swing with my coach in the two weeks off. So the first round I just went out there and play normal and I play really well, like today. Then the second round I went there and I start thinking of my swing, you know, like coming out this way. So that was big mistake, because that course is very technical. You don't get away with many mistakes. I messed up that, so...
Q. As a rookie, can you talk about what your goals are and how does Rolex Rookie of the Year fit into that?
AZAHARA MUÑOZ: I don't really like setting goals depending on that. But, I mean, I guess being rookie of the year would be great. I'm just trying to have a good year and enjoying myself. We'll see after that.
Q. Just what has been the biggest difference for you coming from the college game to this game? Was there anything that immediately jumped out?
AZAHARA MUÑOZ: No, it's pretty similar. I guess the courses here are longer. But, I mean, probably the biggest difference is that I have to do everything by myself, you know. I'm lucky I'm traveling with Pernilla Lindberg, which has been nice. But, you know, in college coaches do everything for you and you travel with six other people. Like they kind of take care of you. You never I mean, I just follow people and I don't care about anything. Here, I mean, I have to do my flight, you know, I have to pretty much do everything myself. So that's probably the biggest thing.
Q. Do you arrive as a rookie believing that you can win, or do you arrive thinking that it's something that you would have to learn how to do?
AZAHARA MUÑOZ: I mean, actually, I don't think of that, because I play my first tournament as a professional – it was a European Tour event – and I won it. So when I went to the tournament, everybody was like, What if you win? And I'm like, There's no chance I'm gonna win. But I did it. Actually, I don't know if I'm ready to win, but, you know, I don't want to think about it. I just go out there and try to play my best and hopefully I win.
Q. What did you and Stephanie and Irene talk about in between shots?
AZAHARA MUÑOZ: I don't know. A little bit about everything. You know, about college, about Stephanie's son. I don't know. Just random stuff. Nothing about Erica (Blasberg), we talk. Just a little bit about everything.
MODERATOR: Katherine, welcome. 6 under, 66 today. Great round. Tell us a little bit about it.
KATHERINE HULL: Started on 10, and I made a really stupid bogey on 11 so it kind of ticked me off. After that I was like, Right, game on. (Laughing.) It got me fired up. Yeah, just played pretty solid from there on in. So seven birdies and no other bogeys, which was nice.
MODERATOR: You played here back in '08. I think you had a T4 or something like that. This course has obviously undergone a lot of changes. How do you feel about the changes? How then also, how has it changed the way the course plays?
KATHERINE HULL: The golf course looks fantastic right now. Obviously with newer greens they're playing a little firmer than what we're used to. I think the greens staff have done a great job getting it in the shape that it's in. I love the layout. I liked it back in '08, and I like it this year. So it's nice to be back.
Q. You played later, and the 7 under had already been posted. Does that affect you in any way when you see that and you're starting basically seven shots back before you even get started? How does that affect you at all?
KATHERINE HULL: It doesn't usually affect me, because, yeah, you just go out there and try and do the best you can. Golf is a funny game. You can be hitting it great and not score very well. I mean, I noticed that the leader was at seven, but it wasn't like I stood on the first tee and was like, Right, I got to make a lot birdies. Just went about executing the game plan and had some fun out there with my caddie, so it was nice.
Q. Katherine, it's May, but really there haven't been that many starts. Can you just talk about that, the state of your game and how the schedule really affects the rhythm and where you're at?
KATHERINE HULL: Yeah, I think all of us are in kind of unusual situation in that it's May and this is only our third tournament in the U.S. So I was fortunate. I played four tournaments in Australia at the start of the year, which is always a really good warmup for the start of the LPGA season. So, yeah, I'm happy with the way my game's going. I've been working hard. Yeah, I guess would have liked to have had some better results in the last few events, but that's golf. Yeah, I'm moving forward.
Q. How did it go in Australia? How did you play there?
KATHERINE HULL: I finished second, second, second and fourth.
Q. Now, is that encouraging or frustrating?
KATHERINE HULL: Um, both. I played well in all the events, and there was always someone that played just a couple shots better than me in the final round. So the first event a girl I think shot 9 under, Kristie Smith. I think she's playing on maybe the Futures Tour. And then I think the second event, a girl shot 5 under; I shot 4 under; I lost by a shot. And then at the ANZ Ladies Masters, Karrie shot, I think 11 under the final round and I shot 6 under. So there's not much you can do when that happens. The fourth was at the Aussie Open, and Yani Tseng obviously won that one. She played great, and I just couldn't get enough putts to drop in the last round.
Q. With those finishes, do you feel like a win is coming? Does it feel like that?
KATHERINE HULL: Yeah. Actually, I thought I would have been in contention in one of the earlier LPGA events coming off those events in Australia. But with me, it's always a fine line between expectations and staying in the moment. I'm probably always gonna struggle with that and kind of not forcing it but just letting it happen. I'm learning. I'm getting better at it. But it's gonna take a lot of patience and discipline.
Q. Can you just summarize your career as you see it right now. Grade yourself or whatever.
KATHERINE HULL: I know my best golf is yet to come. I'm still learning. Yeah, looking forward to I guess the process more than anything else. I made a caddie change at the end of last year, so I got a new guy on the bag this year which is working out fantastically. I don't know. I haven't put a time frame on my career at all. I know my best golf is still to come.
Q. How did the conditions change from 1 to 18 today? Did wind or anything change?
KATHERINE HULL: No, I think the golf course is playing pretty consistently. The wind died off the last couple holes. Overall, it's really playable out there. The greens are rolling very true. You put a good stroke on it at the right speed, they'll go in.
MODERATOR: So Cristie Kerr, 5 under, 67. Good round today. Talk a little bit about it.
CRISTIE KERR: Yeah, I played really well today. Any time you're shooting in the 60s and lower you have to be doing a lot of stuff right. My first birdie came at the sixth hole actually with a bit of bad luck. That's kind of ironic, because I hit a perfect tee shot and I had so much mud on it that I had it felt like I had to layup. Like if there was no mud on it I could have gotten to the green in two. But I ended up just hitting a 7 iron to layup. I aimed like right side of the fairway. So much mud on it I ended up going in the bunker, and then I stiffed it out of the bunker from like 80 yards, which is probably one of the tougher shots in golf.
So that kind of got my round started. Great birdie on 8. Hit a great iron into the green, and great putt on 9. Just kind of kept the momentum going from there. I almost made a long putt on 10 for birdie. I don't know how it didn't go in, but, you know, left probably three or four putts short right in the middle of the cup, so it could have even been lower. But, you know, like I said, any time you're shooting in the 60s, doing a lot right. This is the only the first day of the tournament, so...
MODERATOR: OK. I've got one, and then I'll open it up. You're ranked No. 5 in the world right now. You've been around the top of the rankings for quite a while. Now with Lorena's retirement, do you feel like that's opened a door for you to move up?
CRISTIE KERR: Well, absolutely. We're sad to see that she's gone. She was such a great personality and a great player for this tour, and very visible. You know, she probably single handedly brought three or four events to Mexico for this tour, so we're sad to see her go. But definitely when somebody exits there's always more room at the top. But, you know, there is still a lot great players. Jiyai Shin, Suzann Pettersen, Yani Tseng. There's a lot of great players ahead of me right now. It's gonna take a couple wins to vault me up there. I think I'm ready for that challenge, and that's why we play golf.
Q. From some people's perspective, losing Lorena and Annika a couple years ago, turnover at commissioner, that things are in a state of, if not chaos, at least flux. How do you view the strength and the state of the tour as you sit here after your 67?
CRISTIE KERR: I think we're definitely on the upswing with a new commissioner, Michael Whan. I mean, if you haven't met him, go meet him because he's the kind of guy that will get in trenches and caddie for somebody just to see what it's like and see how it is to be a caddie. He'll go and sit with anybody and talk about any business matter. He's a great guy for business development. Very personable. Sometimes self admittedly talks a little bit too fast (laughs), but I think he's ready for our tour. Since he's come on, HSBC has not only renewed their tournament in Singapore from my understanding, but they've added this tournament in Brazil, and a lot of other conversations are going on.
So I think that's hugely positive for us. I think we just have to recognize that those kind of golfers are just not gonna be around forever. Whether they’ve had a baby and they don't want to play anymore, or they're just ready to step away from the game. I think that it's the tour's job and responsibility to kind of showcase the personalities and the stars of the tour so that people don't feel like when some of those players leave, Oh, my God, what are we gonna do? You know, I've been on tour for 14 years now, I finished second on the Money List last year, and I have a real shot to become No. 1. It's gonna take a lot of hard work and it's not gonna be easy. And it's certainly not just because Lorena Ochoa left. I have to work really hard and keep up my end of the bargain.
Q. This was your first competitive round since the last round at Nabisco.
CRISTIE KERR: We played in the Mojo tournament.
Q. OK. What's the hardest part about getting back into the rhythm?
CRISTIE KERR: That's a very good question, actually. I think that when you're off for three weeks you don't face the stresses of competition, and, you know, the daily schedule that you have to go through and how you're gonna feel on that first tee and how things are gonna go. When you're playing well week to week, there's a level of consistently see and you kind of know how it's going. Having a couple weeks off you're a little bit more unsure. But this is a great golf course for me to start back on. I've always played well here, and I love the changes that they've made to the course, especially the greens.
Q. I think you have three Top 10s in four starts. How would you rate the start of your season and how you've been playing?
CRISTIE KERR: I've been playing great. You know, disappointing finish for me in Singapore. I feel like I had a chance to win there. But, you know, I've been playing great. My short game and putting and everything is feels like it's continuing to get better. Mental game is continuing to get better. I'm back with my caddie that I won the U.S. Open with. I'm very happy to have him back on the bag. I think we're a very formidable team together. You know, I'm looking forward to getting back into contention and hopefully getting a win early this season.
SUZANN PETTERSEN: It's a nice start. The wind is just makes it a little tough because it swirls and drops. I mean, you can hit some great shots and you get a little gust and it just carries it a few yards short or long and just releases outside that birdie chance. So I think it was a pretty steady opening tee to green.
Q. What do you think of the changes?
SUZANN PETTERSEN: I like the greens better this way.
SUZANN PETTERSEN: A bit more fair, I think. I mean, in the past you could hit some it was hard to get to certain pins. These greens are still a bit firm. They're rolling great. (Indiscernible) firmness of the greens, so...
Q. This is the first event where Lorena is no longer No. 1. Does it feel different? Does it feel like there is a chance, a door is open there?
SUZANN PETTERSEN: It feels like we're in between two eras. It feels like I don't know. We've been so used to having first Annika being so dominating, then Lorena. Now it's just a bunch of us trying to fight and get the most out of each week. It's fun, but it just feels like we're kind of right in between two kind of eras of players here.