May 11, 2009
The tournament and its champion stated their cases Sunday. Quite eloquently at that.
Hoping to survive the accountants' axe, the Michelob Ultra Open needed a show. A suitable-for-framing Mother's Day afternoon, compelling final round and charismatic winner provided the goods.
Aspiring to No. 1 in the world, Cristie Kerr needed a trophy. Shrewd course management, a renowned Zen doctor and a superb 3-wood made it happen.
Now things get interesting.
Will the corner-office types at Anheuser-Busch be swayed to renew support of an elite LPGA Tour event? Or was the Mich dead-tournament walking before the week began?
Can Kerr, the world's sixth-ranked player, supplant Lorena Ochoa as No. 1? Or are inner peace, deep breathing and self awareness not enough to overcome the occasional snap hook?
Kerr certainly looked the part Sunday in earning her 12th LPGA victory and second at Kingsmill. While gusty winds and evil pin placements flustered others, she carded a 1-under-par 70 to finish at 16-under, two clear of In-Kyung Kim.
"I feel like I'm just tapping into my potential," the 31-year-old Kerr said. "There's a long time that I didn't, but mental training really helps you believe in yourself. … As they say, the mud's coming off, and the gold's shining through underneath."
On and off the course. Kerr said she's "less stressed out" and a "better person" since connecting last year with psychologist Joe Parent, author of "Zen Golf."
"It's just the calming influence," said Kerr's husband, Erik Stevens. "It doesn't work for everybody, but for Cristie it's been very helpful. … It's worked wonders."
Kerr's composure was most evident, and beneficial, at the par-4 16th hole.
Standing in the middle of the fairway with a mid-iron and one-stroke lead, 20-year-old Song-Hee Kim fired at a sucker pin tucked in the back, left corner. The ball sailed dead left, 40 yards off target, and led to a double-bogey.
Kerr's playing partner, Lindsey Wright, also fired at the 16th flag. She landed in spinach-like rough just above a bunker and made bogey.
Kerr? She aimed for the middle of the green, found the fringe and two-putted for par.
"That's the toughest pin on the golf course," Kerr said. "You just can't go at that pin. Even if you're down one, you let someone else make the mistake on that pin."
Contrast that conservative approach to the prior hole. At the par-5 15th, Kerr laced a 3-wood 235 yards to the back fringe, from where she two-putted for birdie.
Mental training, indeed. Though you wouldn't think that a former U.S. Women's Open champion (2007) would need a refresher course.
"It's not a matter of not being mentally strong," Kerr said. "It's being mentally strong every single day … because it is a challenge to be able to do that every day. Tiger Woods has been seeing somebody since he was 4 or 5 years old and still works with them, so if he needs it, I certainly need it.
"Annika (Sorenstam) as well is somebody since a very young age she's been working with somebody because there's a lot of pressure out there, and if you can just learn how to deal with it and learn where to put it, it really doesn't affect you.
"You realize it's just stuff you make up in your own head and there's a lot of situations you put yourself in that you put more pressure on yourself when it's really just hitting a golf shot. If you can learn how to just do that, it's limitless."
Parent isn't the only new member of Team Kerr. Caddie John Killeen, a 23-year tour veteran whose past clients include Hall of Famer Patty Sheehan and Meg Mallon, began toting Kerr's bag late last season.
Since, she's finished among the top 10 in 13 of her last 19 starts, including the last five.
"I don't think Cristie realizes she's a great player," Killeen said. "She knows she's a really good player."
Kerr: "My caddie said that? … I definitely know I'm good. There's no issue with me there."
Good enough to be No. 1?
"I kind of hesitate to say that, but I think I can," she said. "I'm not afraid of it anymore. … There's not a whole lot of self-doubt left in there for me."
There's plenty of doubt about the LPGA's future at Kingsmill. Anheuser-Busch has sponsored the Mich for seven years, but its merger with Belgium-based InBev and the prolonged recession could terminate the event.
Killeen and Kerr recoiled at the thought.
"The LPGA needs to stay in places like this," said Killeen, whose wife, Denise, shared the first-round lead here in 2003.
"This would be a monumental loss for the LPGA," Kerr said.
Not to mention her bank account. She's won $953,610 at Kingsmill.
"I'll see you next year," Kerr told reporters as she exited the interview room. "I'm planning on it. I'll bring a sponsor myself if I have to."
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com For more from Teel read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime
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