KINGSMILL, Va. | The smile never faded. Not on the first tee. Not in the middle of the front nine when birdies by others loosened her grip on the solo lead. Not early in the back nine when one careless approach led to a sloppy double bogey. And not when the putter that had been so reliable for the last six months went a tick south late in the day. Through it all, 35-year-old Australian Sarah Kemp looked like a homecoming queen in the back seat of the drop-top Lincoln. She waved, she grinned, she gave the occasional “oh shoot” head tilt and “aw shucks” shrug. Anyone who didn’t know better would assume Kemp was a 10-time winner, not a journeywoman in her 14th year still seeking her first LPGA Tour victory.
Kemp teed off in the final group on Saturday for only the second time in her career. It was the first time she had held the lone lead in any weekend round. So, you would have been right to expect some intensity, a serious stare and a few deep breaths. Instead, Kemp joked with her caddie and chatted with playing partners Jessica Korda and Ana on the first tee before ripping a drive into the center of the first fairway.
“Yeah, I did feel calm,” Kemp said after posting a 2-under 69 to reach 8-under par and enter the final round of the Pure Silk Championship just two shots off the lead shared by Moriya and Wei-Ling Hsu.
“I feel comfortable on this golf course,” Kemp said of the River Course at Kingsmill Resort. “I think it suits me and I know it back to front. I've played here however many years -- I don't think I've missed one since I've been on tour. That makes me feel comfortable and my game feels . So, there is a lot of things to be comfortable for around here. And I honestly had a comfortable pairing. Jess and I, you know, had a few jokes out there, which was nice.”
The round was steady. But on a day when people were making moves, including a 63 early in the afternoon by Giulia Molinaro and a pair of 65s by and Hsu, who played in the penultimate group, six straight opening pars by Kemp lost ground. She made back-to-back birdies on 7 and 8 to regain a share of the lead. But a pushed approach on 11 landed awkwardly in a bunker. Then the bunker shot came out hot and ran through the green, down a hill, and into a tight lie. From there, Kemp failed to get up and down, pulling a reasonably straightforward 8-footer for bogey.
That could have been her downfall. A decade ago, it would have been. But this time, Kemp shrugged it off and bounced back with a birdie at 12.
“I kind of almost knew I was going to make birdie,” she said. “I hit a really good drive and I really wanted it - hit a great wedge in there and holed the putt. So, yeah, look, double (bogey), no one wants to have them, but at least I got one back. That was good.”
The other thing that’s good is where Kemp is in her life. She readily admits that a 25-year-old Sarah would have responded to the pressure of a third-round lead a lot different than the older, wiser and happier version did on Saturday.
“I'm a better player but I'm in a better mental space,” she said. “My life is very different to when I was 25. And no matter what happens tomorrow, if I shoot 90 or 65, life is great. You know, it's not going to change how happy I am in life. My family is healthy. Life is just good.
“So, that's what I appreciate more than (whatever happens) tomorrow, really.”