Oakmont, Pa. – Few golfers have ever been in the position Cristie Kerr finds herself this week leading up to the first round of the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open at Oakmont Country Club.
As the latest female golfer to ever hold the No. 1 ranking in the Rolex World Ranking system, Kerr is the first American to do so. She comes to Oakmont, located just outside of Pittsburgh, as the world’s hottest golfer and that evidence can be traced to her last start at the LPGA Championship.
She waxed the field by an amazing 12 shots on the strength of rounds of 68-66-69-66 at Locust Hill Country Club in suburban Rochester, N.Y. She became the first American to win the LPGA Championship since Juli Inkster in 2000 and broke Betsy King's previous record for margin of victory by one shot. And her winning score is the lowest in relation to par in the event's history.
Other players have come into major championships with glittering resumés, hot streaks and high rankings. But this is different. Kerr has already won a U.S. Women’s Open (2007 at Pine Needles) and was in contention for a second title last year at Saucon Valley Country Club until late Sunday afternoon.
The 32-year-old native of Miami, Fla., however, has things in crisp focus.
- She’s perfectly comfortable with her position.
“I feel great,” said Kerr. “I feel like I've worked for this my whole life. So it's great that I got there, but now it's time to just keep doing the things that got me there. I don’t believe I over-carry the thing about being No. 1, I enjoy it. You know, I can't control what other golfers do, but I can control what I do. And if I can control what I do well enough, then I will stay there.
- She’s happy with her “on-course” situation, having reunited with caddie Jason Gilroyed after a year’s separation. Gilroyed has been a professional caddie since 1996 and has been on the bag for 13 wins; Kerr owns 14 titles.
- They had almost instant success, winning a tournament just four starts into their partnership in 2006. Kerr and Gilroyed won five times before she fired him after the 2007 Solheim Cup.
“We didn’t split up about golf stuff,” said Kerr. “Our personalities were clashing, and we both needed to mature a little bit, and we have. It was time for us to get back together. I probably maybe fired him a little hastily. But I have matured a lot in the last couple of years and so has he and it was just time for us to get back together.
“I just felt Jason was the guy that had that competitive fire. He had the wanting-to-win, working-harder-than-everybody-else mentality, like I’m going to get it done on Sunday. I’m going to help my player win on Sunday. That’s what I needed again.”
- She’s well aware of her Women’s Open success and is comfortable bringing that success to Oakmont.
“You know, like I said, maybe it's just a little bit more my time, the point in my life,” said Kerr, who has a bulldog personality and has long possessed a fiery, take-no-prisoner attitude on the course. “The thing about the Open is you can be as prepared as you can be prepared, and it doesn't matter sometimes. So you just gotta go out and just try and execute each shot the best you can. The Open doesn't play favorites. You have to play the golf courses as well as you can.
- Kerr knows Oakmont will provide the stiffest Open test ever for the 156 players this week. But she’s showing no signs of being intimidated. She’s following the path that Jack Nicklaus took many years ago when he said he listened to what other players were saying about a course. When he started hearing a lot of complaints, he eliminated all of the complainers as contenders.
“Oakmont is pretty cool,” said Kerr at her Tuesday press conference. “It's probably the coolest golf course I've been on. It's certainly one of the most penalizing if you miss the fairways. The fairways are definitely hittable, but you can see why the scores have been what they have for champions to win here over the years.”
- Kerr is well aware of the statistic that gnaws at fans of American golfers: U.S. golfers have won just six of the last 36 LPGA Tour events and Kerr has three of those victories. And, as a result, she puts a great deal of emphasis on the task immediately at hand.
“I definitely think our tour needs it to just really establish the American force on our tour again,” said Kerr. “To have an American win the money title or win player of the year would be a great thing. We’re kind of in a hole since the year is almost half over, but anything is possible.”
The way things have come together for Kerr, the way her confidence is brimming at the moment, it won’t be surprising at all to see a firecracker performance from one of the LPGA’s fiercest competitors.
Mike Dudurich is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.