KATHERINE KIRK SEES SIMILARITIES BETWEEN LPGA, ONEIDA NATION
The players who comprise the 2019 LPGA Tour body range in age from 19 to 35. They represent more than 30 countries and more than 30 States. That breadth of diversity is a characteristic that 2017 Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic champion Katherine Kirk sees as inherent in the Oneida Nation, the tribe that sponsors this week’s event.
“The sense of culture and respect amongst the Oneida Nation is really impressive. Obviously, we’ve got a lot of countries and cultures represented on Tour. I think the more awareness that you have about other cultures and countries the more we can kind of raise tolerance and respect and appreciation,” said Kirk, who broke a 152-tournament winless streak with her victory in 2017. “There is something to be learned there for everyone. So I have enjoyed getting to kind of learn about the Oneida Nation, and it's something I would not have had the chance to do if it weren't for this tournament.”
Kirk enters this week’s tournament looking for her first top-10 since she tied for fifth at the 2019 ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open. The 37-year-old Australian, who now makes her home in Kansas, finished T20 at the 2018 Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic, a tournament that saw Sei Young Kim shatter the LPGA Tour scoring record. According to Kirk, this week could be another barnstormer of a scoring bonanza.
“Records, obviously we're used to seeing them broken, but I don't think anyone expected her to totally smash them. I mean, full credit to her. She played great,” said Kirk. “I'm sure we'll see some really low scores this week too. Hopefully maybe a 59 watch. Never know. That would be kind of exciting.”
SOLHEIM CUP DREAMS ON THE HORIZON FOR MARINA ALEX
Marina Alex takes on Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic this week for the first time in her career. Alex, who sits at No. 34 in the Rolex Rankings, is coming off a T33 showing at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. After watching dominating performances at Thornberry last year, Alex said she knows she will have to go low to come out on top.
“[The course] definitely forces me a little bit out of my comfort zone in the sense that I need to attack more if I want to be in contention,” said Alex. “So for me, sometimes where I'm strategizing on a course I would maybe look to play a little bit more conservative, I'm going to have to maybe be a bit more aggressive than I normally would in order to get birdies and eagles, which have been out here in the past couple years.”
Alex’s motivation to do well this week is also fueled by her desire to compete in her first Solheim Cup come September. Alex is currently seventh in the USA Solheim Cup rankings with 250 points. She said it has been a dream to be a member of the team for as long as she can remember.
“I think that it's everyone's goal as an American or as a European when you turn professional,” said Alex. “You're out here to represent either America or your countries, and to compete against one another it's -- I mean, on TV it looks like the most unbelievable experience, so it would being an absolute honor to be part of the team hopefully this year and hopefully few more years to come.”
GABBY LEMIEUX GETS ANOTHER CHANCE AT THORNBERRY CREEK
When Gabby Lemieux turned professional in 2018, she was closer to her eventual goal of playing on the LPGA Tour. After playing in last year’s Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic, Lemieux is ready to return as a sponsor invite. Lemieux said last year was nerve-wracking but she relished the opportunity to compete against some of the world’s best.
“I think overall it was a great learning experience,” said Lemieux. “I've taken all that information that I've learned and carried it into the whole next year. I think it's helped me.”
Lemieux played collegiate golf at Texas Tech University, where she was Big 12 Conference Player of the Year as a sophomore. She missed the cut at Thornberry Creek last year but said the support she has received from her Native American community since has been overwhelming.
“It's been really exciting just because just being one of the only women professional golfers who is Native American you get so much feedback from other tribes as well. Doesn't have to be just my tribe,” said Lemieux. “Indian Country is so supportive. They're behind me 100%. There are a couple people that I've talked to and they're like, ‘I follow you on Instagram. It's exciting to see where you're going.’ So it’s nice to see that.”
For this week and beyond, Lemieux said her strategy is to enjoy the moment. “I think I took it a little too seriously last year just trying to perform as well as I could. I think just this year coming out here having fun, hitting shots I know I can hit is I think going to help,” said Lemieux. “Overall I don't think I have any expectations for the year to come. I think just going out there and trying my best and getting through Q-School and all that I have to do to hopefully get on the LPGA full time.”
DESIGNATED HOLE FOR AON RISK REWARD CHALLENGE
The season-long Aon Risk Reward Challenge will highlight the world’s best professional golfers as they tackle the most strategically challenging holes across both the LPGA Tour and PGA TOUR schedules. The player from each Tour on top of the Aon leaderboard at the end of the regular season will receive a $1 million prize. The scoring system is identical on both the LPGA Tour and PGA TOUR, and players will take their best two scores from each Aon Risk Reward Challenge hole, with the winners having the best average score to par at the end of the season. Players must play a minimum of 40 rounds throughout the season. The Challenge runs across regular season tournaments (29 LPGA Tour; 36 PGA TOUR).
The designated Aon Risk Reward Challenge hole at the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic is the 15th. Water lines the entire left side of this challenging 511-yard par 5 so accuracy is required off the tee from where a fairway bunker on the right also needs to be avoided. The smart play here is to lay up short of the water that separates the green from the fairway, but the bold player can take the risk and try to reach the green in two. The peninsula green is receptive to a short iron for the third shot.
For more information about the Aon Risk Reward Challenge, visit www.lpga.com/statistics/aon-risk-reward-challenge.
AL DUMMER NOMINATED FOR AXA LPGA VOLUNTEER SERVICE AWARD
The AXA LPGA Volunteer Service Award is a program launched in 2018 to recognize exemplary volunteers at each LPGA tournament. This week’s award recipient is Al Dummer, who has been a volunteer for the Thornberry Creek LPGA classic since its inception in 2017, serving as a host family and a walking scorer.
After the 2019 season, the name of one AXA LPGA Volunteer Award recipient will be drawn in a random selection. That winning volunteer’s tournament charity will be awarded $10,000 on behalf of AXA.
For more information on the AXA LPGA Volunteer Service Award, visit: http://www.lpga.com/tournaments/axa-lpga-volunteer-service-award