CARLSBAD, Calif. – The tournament before a major championship usually has a strong field, but the Kia Classic could almost be billed as the fifth major.
The top 49 out of 50 golfers from last year’s LPGA money list are at La Costa Resort and while they are preparing for this event, next week’s first major championship, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, is not far from their minds.
The only top-50 golfer not in the field is Juli Inkster. The 36th-ranked player on the 2011 money list is recuperating from nerve surgery on her right elbow, Jan. 27, and won’t rejoin the tour until the end of summer.
Rookie Lexi Thompson, 17, selected the tournament not only because it is a week before a major, but she also likes the venue.
“La Costa is a great golf course,” Thompson said. “It’s in amazing shape for us and the greens are pretty small, rough is pretty deep, so you just have to keep it straight and place the ball on the green.”
The tournament skipped La Costa last year, playing in the Los Angeles area at Industry Hills, but moved back to the northern San Diego county course after renovations and defending champion, Sandra Gal, will have to try and defend on a different venue.
“It’s a little special situation, isn’t it?” Gal said. “It’s the first time for me defending a title, so I really don’t know what to expect, but coming to a different course, I think takes a bit of pressure off. It just kind of feels like another tournament that I’ve got to put my focus into.”
That is how the world’s No. 1 golfer, Taiwan’s Yani Tseng, is approaching it. She has won two of the four events she has played in this season and finished fifth and tied for eighth in the other two.
“A major is a big thing for us,” Tseng said. “But I think for me, ever tournament is big so I don’t really specifically prepare for the majors. I prepare for every tournament. It doesn’t matter if it’s a major or not.”
Michelle Wie hasn’t had much time to think ahead to the Kraft Nabisco Championship. The senior at Stanford just finished up her final classes and will graduate June 17. She can now focus on golf as a full-time professional.
“I don’t feel extra pressure, I kind of feel like a weight is lifted off my shoulder,” Wie said. “I can really use the extra time to focus more on my game.”