CINCINNATI, Ohio | It doesn’t matter if you see her fighting for the lead at an LPGA Tour event or grinding over a 4-footer for birdie to beat me at Orange Tree, her home club in Orlando where she lives just left of the 10th fairway with her wife Lisa Cornwell: Sarah Kemp will always wear the kind of broad and infectious smile that you end up mimicking, whether you mean to or not.
Whether she is up and down, having the year of her career or struggling to keep her card, Kempy, as she is known to everyone in the game, always wears that smile while displaying relentless grit, battling week after week, season after season. Her demeanor presents the kind of dichotomy that makes you lean in and want to learn more.
She is like a grinning bull terrier – adorable, athletic, and aggressive enough to take off a couple of your fingers if you get too cozy.
On Thursday at the Kroger Queen City Championship presented by P&G, needing to good week to improve her position in the Race to the CME Globe, Kempy fired an opening 66 to put her in a good spot with 54 holes remaining this week and only five more domestic events on the calendar before the CME Group Tour Championship.
“I just hit it really solid,” she said. “I had a lot of wedges that I hit inside ten feet and I made them. I don't think I holed a putt over maybe 16 feet today, so I hit it really solid. I had a lot of good looks and I rolled them in.”
Kemp did it with Cornwell carrying the clubs. She’s by no means a professional caddie – a fact that Lisa herself will be the first to admit – but Kemp says, “It's just sort of like a comfort that I don't have with anybody else, obviously.
“I've had a little bit of an up and down year,” she continued. “It hasn't been too bad, but I kind of need a good finish to finish out the year and keep my card. So we had a talk, and the last couple of events I really wanted someone that I was going to be nothing but comfortable with. So, yeah, she's coming out for a few.
“She makes me laugh. That's the most important thing. I feel comfortable and she makes me laugh. She says really silly things. We have a very much childlike marriage. We just have so much fun together.
“So, yeah, she's just out there keeping me calm and keeping it light. Just making sure I have a good time in between shots, no matter what happens.”
Kemp is in her 15th season on the LPGA Tour, but hasn’t won yet. She has only one top-10 finish this year. The 2019 was solid but has yet to break into the top 60 in the CME Globe, which is a mystery. Her ball striking has always been stellar. And the putting has improved considerably in recent years. A lot of her inability to break through is in her mindset.
“I've worked with some sports psychologists over the year on it,” she said. “I still haven't worked it out. I don't know. Like this is such a frustrating and such a grind of a game. I know a bunch of girls who are taking medicals for mental health leave. It's such a grind. I've been in that position. I've felt like I needed to do that, too.
“But I'm grinding it out. Even though I'm 100 on the CME list, which is sort of a stressful place to be with not many tournaments left, but I surprisingly feel calm.
“I think Lisa had a really big factor into that today. That's why I wanted to finish the year with somebody like her on the bag.”
Having the person who knows you best by your side can often make the biggest difference.
“I really want to keep my job,” Kemp said on Thursday. “I don't want to have to go back to Q-School. But, yeah, it's a tough thing to figure out. I don't know if anybody ever figures it out. You just kind of embrace the season you're in, I guess. So that's what I've been trying to do.”