WILLIAMSBURG — The LPGA Tour has produced beaucoup drama at Kingsmill, from Annika Sorenstam’s farewell victory in 2008 to a record nine-hole, two-day playoff in 2012 between Jiyai Shin and Paula Creamer.
As if that doesn’t set the bar high enough for next month’s tournament here, consider the circuit’s intrigue thus far in 2014.
Start at the top of this season’s money list with 2006 Kingsmill champion Karrie Webb, who has won two of the year’s seven tournaments and finished one shot out of a playoff in another.
Already enshrined in the World Golf Hall of Fame, Webb, 39, is among several Tour staples valiantly resisting the sport’s youth movement.
Just Sunday, at the season’s first major championship, the Kraft Nabisco, Webb joined Se Ri Pak, Angela Stanford and three-time Kingsmill winner Cristie Kerr, all 36, with top-15 finishes. Catriona Matthew, 44, also was in the group.
That said, 19-year-old Lexi Thompson won the Kraft Nabisco, becoming the LPGA’s second-youngest major champion — Morgan Pressel won the 2007 Kraft Nabisco at age 18. Michelle Wie, five years Thompson’s “senior,” placed second Sunday.
Moreover, 21-year-old Jessica Korda, the daughter of 1998 Australian Open tennis champion Petr Korda, claimed the season’s opening tournament in the Bahamas.
“I like where our tour is at right now,” Kerr said Tuesday during a news conference promoting the May 15-18 tournament at Kingsmill. “I think we’re in a prime position to take advantage of that. … There’s a lot of stars and a lot of storylines going on.”
Kerr spoke via video hookup from her Arizona home, where she and her husband, Erik Stevens, care for their 4-month-old son, Mason.
“It is a full-time job off the golf course,” Kerr said of parenthood, warmly recalling Monday night’s sleep deprivation in hourly detail.
With three top-10 finishes in five starts this year, including a fourth-place tie with Pak at the Kraft Nabisco, Kerr appears to be juggling adroitly and prepared to defend her title. Facing a stout field, she defeated Suzann Pettersen in a two-hole playoff at Kingsmill last season for her 16th career victory.
This year’s field figures to be similarly top-shelf. New tournament director Matthew Schulze said Tuesday that 44 of last season’s top 50 money leaders have committed to play, including Thompson, Webb and Creamer.
For all of the LPGA’s 2014 moments, the most indelible and replayed belongs to Creamer, who came agonizingly close to prevailing at Kingsmill two years ago. Winless since her 2010 U.S. Women’s Open triumph, Creamer made a 75-foot eagle putt on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff against Azahara Munoz to capture the HSBC tournament in Singapore.
“Pretty awesome,” Schulze said of the field.
Each tournament is granted two sponsor’s exemptions for the field, and once again Kingsmill appears to have selected wisely, with Clemson freshman Ashlan Ramsey and British pro Charley Hull, both 18.
Sponsor’s exemptions are typically reserved for amateurs or fledgling professionals, and rarely do they contend. But last year at Kingsmill, exemptions Katie Burnett and Ariya Jutanugarn, the latter 17 years old, were among the top 10 entering Sunday’s final round.
Could Hull and/or Ramsey also make noise? Their credentials say yes.
GolfWeek ranked Ramsey the world’s top amateur for portions of 2013, when her victories included the Eastern Golf Association Championship at Kingsmill. Ramsey fired rounds of 66, 70 and 70 over the par-71 River Course and understands that the layout she encounters in May will be far more difficult, set up to challenge the LPGA’s best.
The Ladies European Tour’s top rookie in 2013, Hull routed Creamer 5 and 4 in Solheim Cup singles last August and last month posted her first professional victory, capturing the LET’s Lalla Meryem Cup in Morocco with a final-round 62. She entered the final round at the Kraft Nabisco just two shots behind co-leaders Thompson and Wie but faded to a seventh-place tie, 10 strokes behind Thompson, with a Sunday 76.
“I’m very confident,” Hull said Tuesday. “I had a good chance to win last week. I learned a lot. It was my first time being in that kind of position at a major, and I can’t wait to come to this event.”
On that count, she is not alone.
Said Kerr: “It just feels like home there.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun