Defending champion Cristie Kerr returns to Aviara Golf Club this week with a chance to do something she’s never done in her career - defend a tournament title.
Kerr has special memories here as she ended a 42-tournament winless streak with her victory in Carlsbad, California last year. Kerr became the first American winner of the Kia Classic thanks to a four-round total of 20-under par 268 that broke the event’s scoring record by four shots.
That win, her first as a mother, helped propel Kerr to one of her best seasons in recent years as she posted eight top-10s, was a key member of the victorious U.S. Solheim Cup team and capped off the year with a victory at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship. It also marked the first time that Kerr had won twice in a season since 2010.
“It feels amazing [to be back],” Kerr said of returning as defending champion. “I really enjoy playing this golf course and it’s a great test.
“You have to have an entire game here. You need to drive it straight, you need to be accurate with your irons and you need to have great speed and green-reading ability on these greens. The greens are severe and very quick so you have to have a total game here.”
Kerr is coming off a season-best T13 finish last week at the JTBC Founders Cup in Phoenix and has put herself in an enviable position with some big international competitions taking place this summer. She is currently ranked No. 14 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings and as of today, would qualify to compete for the U.S. in both the Olympics and the UL International Crown.
Henderson Looking to Keep Momentum
Brooke Henderson is experiencing her fair share of success in her first full season as an LPGA Tour member. Last week’s tie for fourth finish at the JTBC Founders Cup marked Henderson’s fourth consecutive top-10 finish and she has finished no worse than T21 in five total tournaments this season.
It seems like everything is coming together for Henderson at the right time with the season’s first major, the ANA Inspiration, taking place next week. And the 18-year-old Canadian is looking forward to having one really good final tune-up this week at the Kia Classic to get her game major championship ready.
“This course is a good test,” Henderson said of Aviara Golf Club. “I know the scores have been pretty low other years, so definitely lots of birdie opportunities. But you’ve really got to play smart. I just played the back nine yesterday and you’ve really got to place your shots and make sure you’re on the high side most of the day and putting below the pin.”
Henderson is looking forward to heading back to the California desert for next week’s ANA Inspiration where she competed once as an amateur in 2014, finishing T26 that year. The experience left a strong impression on Henderson then and she is looking forward to the opportunity to go back there and be in contention for her first major championship win.
“I‘m excited to got to ANA next week,” Henderson said. “It was a highlight in 2014 when I play played as amateur and I have a lot of amazing memories from there. I’m excited to go back and hopefully jump into Poppie’s Pond.”
A Different Kind of Spring Break
Alison Lee is often the envy of her college peers at UCLA for the fact that the successful professional golfer can afford a few nicer dinners than an average college student. But even though the Westwood, California resident is excited to be at “home” an hour and a half away in Carlsbad this week for the KIA Classic, she admits that it’s her turn to be a little envious of her college buddies who are enjoying their Spring Break from school.
“The funny thing is all my friends from school are like in Cabo and then they are in like Palm Springs and they are in like Lake Tahoe and I’m watching their Snap stories and pictures on Instagram just crying,” Lee said with a laugh. “But yeah, it’s nice to be home.”
Last week was finals week for the winter quarter at UCLA and Lee found herself dealing with the typical stress and “mental breakdowns” she said that any typical college student experiences during finals. Yet the 21-year-old has found a way to be successful at both school and in her golf career, which is definitely not an easy balance to maintain. Lee is coming off a rookie season last year in which she posted six top 10s in 23 events and earned a spot on the victorious U.S. Solheim Cup team.
So how is she able to maintain that balance?
“A good friend said a quote to me the other day, ‘Sometimes the less golf matters, you play better,’” Lee said. “That really stuck with me. And obviously you need to feel the pressure. You need to be driven and you have to have that drive to play well on Tour. But at the same time, sometimes you can’t let it consume you. You can’t get ahead of yourself. You can’t be almost drowned in everything that’s going on out here.”
Lee has tallied two top-20 finishes in four events so far in 2016 including a season-best tie for ninth at the Coates Golf Championship Presented by R+L Carriers. And she has good memories at Aviara Golf Club, finishing tied for fourth in her first time playing the event last year.
Numbers To Know
4 – A player from South Korea has won four of the first six tournaments this year, Ha Na Jang has won two
5 – There have been five holes-in-one through the first six tournaments this year
14 – There are a season-high 14 rookies competing this week at the Kia Classic
20 – Cristie Kerr holds the tournament scoring record at 20-under-par and is the only player to win the Kia Classic with all four rounds in the 60’s
22 – Number of rounds under par for Ha Na Jang this season
41 – Lydia Ko has spent 41 total weeks atop the Rolex Rankings in her young career