Jones, who retired two years ago when her aching neck and body could no longer withstand the rigors of the LPGA Tour, just had to be here.
It had been tugging on my sleeve a little bit, Jones said Wednesday. Knowing that it was their 30th anniversary, I wanted to be here.
Jones, who had been here as a commentator for the Golf Channel since retiring, was invited by tournament officials to take part in the festivities. And she thought if she was going to return, she might as well bring her clubs.
When I called back, I said, Well, you know, if Im coming up what are the chances that I can play? said Jones, whose last event on tour was the 2006 U.S. Open.
Turns out those chances were pretty good. Jones accepted a sponsors exemption and will tee off Thursday in an afternoon group with Meg Mallon and Sherri Steinhauer.
I was thrilled. It definitely would take this tournament to get me out of retirement, Jones said. Wouldnt do this for any tournament.
Thats understandable. Jones is the only back-to-back Corning winner (1996-97) and its all-time money leader by a wide margin'her $564,630 in earnings is nearly double the total of runner-up Tammie Green.
Still, there is trepidation, even for the player who ranks eighth on the LPGAs all-time money list with more than $8.3 million won.
The more golf I play, the worse I feel, said Jones, who only plays a couple times a week these days. I havent really wanted to go back out and play on the LPGA in the last two years. This was really out on a limb for me. I just didnt really have that need or craving to play again. And now that Im back here, its a little bit scary. As soon as I hung up the phone I thought, What am I, crazy? What am I thinking? I havent really taken the game serious for over two years.
But I want to play well, Jones said. It would be a miracle to win. But you know what? Stranger things have happened in this game. You never know.
Although the tours top two players arent here'Lorena Ochoa dropped out after initially entering and Annika Sorenstam hasnt returned since she was runner-up to Jimin Kang in 2005 after winning the previous year'this years field does include Paula Creamer and Jeong Jang, third and fifth on the 2008 money list. Also back are former Corning champions Hee-Won Han (2006), Kang, Laura Diaz (2002), Sherri Turner (1988), Cindy Rarick (1987), and last years winner, Young Kim.
The 51-year-old Turner turned teary-eyed when asked about the future of the Corning Classic, which has a purse of $1.5 million. It comes near the end of a grueling 10-week stretch on the schedule between the Kraft Nabisco Championship in early April and the McDonalds Championship the second weekend in June, and rumors are afoot that it could be in jeopardy when its current contract expires in 2010.
I just think that the older players, the players that have been here year after year, they just feel a connection with the community, said Turner, who will be playing here for the 24th time. And a lot of the younger players'and Im not really naming anyone in specific'plan their schedules around the biggest prize money. To them, its become more of a business now. Theres going to be some events that were going to lose.
Jones said such rumors are just part of the game.
When a contract is up, theres always that speculation, she said. It happens at every single tournament.
The Safeway International ended this year after a 29-year run. Aside from the majors, Corning has the fifth-longest tenure on the LPGA Tour, and Creamer plans on remaining a regular.
I wouldnt know why you wouldnt come up and play this golf course. People who dont choose to come here, Im not sure why, said Creamer, runner-up here a year ago. Its a great golf course. I think the biggest part is the legacy that it has.