MEADOW BACK FOR MORE ON THE LPGA TOUR
It was a refreshing lap around Aviara Golf Club on Thursday for Stephanie Meadow, who made her Kia Classic debut with a bogey-free 67. “Just hit a bunch fairways and a bunch of greens and rolled some putts in,” said Meadow, who finished the day in solo second. “Pretty stress-free golf, which is always nice.”
For the 27-year-old from Northern Ireland, it was doubly refreshing to finally be back in playing shape and on the LPGA Tour. In July 2017, Meadow suffered a stress fracture of the L5 vertebrae in her lower back, an injury that went misdiagnosed for 10 weeks. That season saw Meadow miss 14 of 17 cuts and after she failed to better her status at Q School, Meadow spent 2018 rehabilitating both her back and her game on the Symetra Tour. She returned to the LPGA Tour after finishing sixth in the 2018 Volvik Race for the Card, which awards LPGA status to the Symetra Tour’s top 10 money winners.
“It was definitely hard in the beginning. Obviously, it's a different kind of feeling when you go to tournaments, so it was kind of swallow your pride,” said Meadow, who won the 2018 IOA Championship, being held concurrently with the Kia Classic just 90 miles away in Beaumont, Calif. “But you know what? There are some really awesome girls out there that are really good players. I kept saying to people, If you win on Symetra and you can Top 5 every week, you're going to be able to compete out here, too. The Tour has gotten so much better in the last five years.”
This is not the first time that the University of Alabama alumna has had to battle back from adversity. In early 2015, her father Robert was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer. Meadow took three months off from competition to help care for him before his death in May 2015, returning to the Tour later that month. At the end of the season, her fellow players selected Meadow as the recipient of the Heather Farr Perseverance Award, which honors an LPGA player who, through her hard work, dedication and love of the game of golf, has demonstrated determination, perseverance and spirit in fulfilling her goals as a player.
LUCKY NUMBER 4 FOR RYANN O’TOOLE
In most Asian countries, the number four means bad luck. But for Ryann O’Toole, a native Southern Californian, shooting -4 is a score she’s aiming for. O’Toole made five birdies and a lone bogey in the first round of the Kia Classic for a first-round 68. The 32-year-old American grew up 30 minutes north of Carlsbad in San Clemente and in week two of the three-week West Coast stretch, she especially feels happy to be back at home.
“I've only lived in Arizona for three years, L.A. for 10, so I've kind of got like three home-stretch events,” said O’Toole, who currently resides in Scottsdale, Ariz. “I'm staying down there. My parents still live down there. I'm just making the drive every day. It's so nice to be at home and just to visit where you grew up, your roots, so I love it.”
O’Toole is making her eighth start at the Kia Classic; she missed the cut in her first four tournaments, earned back-to-back T31 finishes in 2016 and 2017 and finished T65 in 2018. With the comforts of playing close to home, O’Toole hopes that her game will continue trending upward, keeping a low score in mind.
“The goal for this week is definitely to play the best I have in the last years that I've played here. I definitely feel like I trended more, so obviously think I found my bearings in playing at home,” said O’Toole. “I told myself if I could shoot 4-under every round that would be a contention area. Happy that I got 4.”ANOTHER ACE AT NO. 14, THIS TIME FOR KERR
It was déjà vu all over again for Cristie Kerr, who for the second year in a row witnessed an ace at Aviara’s par-3 14th. In 2018, Kerr watched as Eun-Hee Ji made a hole-in-one on Sunday to secure her third career LPGA Tour victory. This time, it was Kerr with the fireworks, rolling one in from 143 yards as this time Ji stood to the side and celebrated.
“It was just incredible, because Eun Hee, last year she won the tournament but also made a hole-in-one on that hole,” said Kerr, who won this tournament in 2015. “The odds of the two of us playing in the same group and her having won it and then me doing it, that was pretty cool.”
Kerr’s hole-in-one adds another $20,000 to the season-long CME Group Cares Challenge - Score 1 for St. Jude, which benefits St. Jude Children’s Hospital. The tally currently stands at $120,000, with an ace at every tournament except the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions. Kerr finished the day tied for 90th at 2-over 74.
Rolex Rankings No. 78 Chella Choi (65)
- Choi’s first-round 65 is her lowest round of the 2019 LPGA Tour season, besting the 68 she shot in the third round of last week’s Bank of Hope Founders Cup
- She hit 13 of 14 greens and 17 of 18 fairways
- Choi is in her 11th season on the LPGA Tour; she won the 2015 Marathon Classic presented by Owen Corning and O-I
- This is Choi’s fifth event of the 2019 LPGA Tour season; her best finish is T34 at last week’s Bank of Hope Founders Cup
- She is competing in her 10th Kia Classic; her best finish is fourth in 2014 and she has three other top-20 finishes
Rolex Rankings No. 310 Stephanie Meadow (67)
- Meadow’s first-round 67 is tied for the second-lowest round of her LPGA Tour career; she shot 66 twice in 2016 and has four previous 67s, including in the second and third rounds of last week’s Bank of Hope Founders Cup
- She hit 13 of 14 greens and 15 of 18 fairways
- Meadow was a LPGA Tour rookie in 2015; after a stress fracture in her back derailed her career in mid-2017, she returned to the Symetra Tour for 2018, where she had one victory and regained her LPGA Tour card via the Volvik Race for the Card
- This is Meadow’s fourth event of the 2019 LPGA Tour season; her best finish is T40 at last week’s Bank of Hope Founders Cup
- She is competing in her first Kia Classic
- Meadow won the LPGA Tour’s 2015 Heather Farr Perseverance Award in 2015; her father Robert was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer at the beginning of the season and Meadow left the Tour for three months to help care for him before his death in May 2015
- 25 players in the top 20 represent 12 different countries (Republic of Korea, Northern Ireland, Thailand, USA, Mexico, Colombia, China, Australia, Japan, Philippines, France and Canada)
- Cristie Kerr wins a 2020 Kia Telluride for her hole-in-one on the par-4 No. 14, made with her 9-iron from 143 yards
- Maddie McCrary withdrew during the first round, citing a wrist injury