Little Warrior

By Randall MellJune 28, 2010, 4:01 am
LPGA ChampionshipPITTSFORD, N.Y. – Cristie Kerr has evolved in the long, hard climb to the top of the mountain.

Charlie De Lucca could see the strongest evidence of that yet a thousand miles away as he watched Kerr win the LPGA Championship Sunday on television from his home in Miami.

DeLucca, known as the “Godfather of South Florida Golf,” watched Kerr annihilate the competition when she was growing up in Miami. As executive director of the Dade Amateur Golf Association, he marveled at the cold, ruthless little competitor who never seemed satisfied or content as she rose to No. 1 in the national junior rankings.

That’s what DeLucca was thinking about as he watched Kerr rout the world’s best women pretty much the same way she did South Florida’s best all those years ago.

Cristie Kerr
Cristie Kerr had six birdies and no bogeys in the final round. (Getty Images)
That’s what he was thinking about with all those fans at Locust Hill chanting “USA” and Kerr beaming over the knowledge that she’ll become the first American to ascend to No. 1 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings when they’re released on Monday.

“I sent Cristie a text Saturday night,” DeLucca said. “I told her I’ve never seen her look like she was enjoying the game more. She just looks different. You can still see when she gets mad about shots, but she’s never looked more in control of herself. She just looks like she’s having fun.”

Kerr literally let her hair down walking onto the 18th green.

She took off her cap, undid her pony tail, and shook her long, blond hair to the delight of the raucous crowd flocked around the final hole.

Still, with Kerr’s final shot, DeLucca could see something internal hasn’t changed at all.

Back when Kerr was growing up in Miami, DeLucca remembers a junior introducing herself to Kerr on the first tee before a match.

“Hi, I’m Susie Smith,” the junior said

The name could have been Jones or Johnson or Floyd.

“Hi,” Kerr shot back. “I’m the girl who’s going to kick your butt today.”

Kerr used a word other than butt.

DeLucca said Kerr went 1-up before a match began after more than one exchange like that.

“She told Robert Floyd she was going to kick his butt when they played in high school,” DeLucca said.

That would be Hall of Famer Raymond Floyd Jr’s son. She beat him, too. Kerr played for the boys’ team at Sunset High, Floyd for Country Day.

“Cristie was just tough,” DeLucca said. “She wasn’t afraid of anybody. She had some hard times, and she could upset some people, but she was just so dedicated and driven.”

Kerr, 32, a 14-time LPGA winner with two major championships to her credit, has evolved. She doesn’t tell playing partners she’s going to kick their butts anymore. She might be thinking it, though.

“Inside the ropes, she’s still a killer out there,” said Jason Gilroyed, her caddie. “She just kept the pedal down all day. She never let up.”

It wasn’t because she was going for a record, Gilroyed said. He didn’t have a sense that she was even aware of how far she was pulling away from the field after opening the final round with that eight-shot lead.

“It was a dream performance,” Kerr said. “I didn’t limit myself. I just wanted to see how far I could take it. It took it pretty far.”

LPGA Champ. at Crossroads
By Randall Mell

So where does the LPGA Championship go from here? The question lingers in the wake of Cristie Kerr’s victory Sunday at Locust Hill Country Club.This was originally planned as the temporary home of the LPGA Championship with Wegmans the temporary presenting sponsor ... Read More

The only number Kerr seemed to have in mind was winning her bet with Gilroyed.

The bet was Gilroyed would have to pay for groceries for the week when they play the U.S. Women’s Open at Oakmont if she shot at least 2-under on Sunday. If she shot 4-under or better, Gilroyed would also have to pay for the wine. Gilroyed said he doesn’t know how many folks he’ll be feeding, but the house they’re renting in suburban Pittsburgh has six bedrooms.

“I’ll be out a couple thousand dollars,” Gilroyed said.

The caddie couldn’t be happier about it. His percentage of the $337,500 first-place check will help. Kerr’s come a long way in her climb to No. 1. She turned pro at 18 with her parents splitting up and on their way to divorce as she struggled to establish herself.

'There were times when she could look lost,' DeLucca said.

Kerr looks back at all of it now and sees how it shaped where she is today.

“I’ve been this competitive since I was 10 years old,” Kerr said. “My father was very competitive as a baseball player. My mother was a competitive swimmer. Both of my parents are fighters. They told me never to give up. I gave up once when I was 9 or 10, and I didn’t hear the end of it. That’s the last time I’ve ever given up on a golf course.”

Kerr was a chubby, prickly teen who didn’t make friends easily when she first hit the tour, but she’s evolved. There’s evidence of that in the foundation she established to help fight breast cancer after her mother was diagnosed with the disease. There’s her well documented physical transformation that’s landed her on the cover of women’s magazines, and there’s the social transformation. She counts Natalie Gulbis and Morgan Pressel as close friends. She credits her husband, Erik Stevens, for helping her evolve since they married in ‘06.

“I’ve won one tournament without my husband,” Kerr said. “I’ve won all the others with him. He’s been one of the biggest influences on me becoming a better person, changing and evolving and giving back.”

Unfortunately, for Kerr’s fellow competitors, the evolution hasn’t softened the little warrior within who wants to kick their butts.

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After Further Review: Nelson lost in the shuffle?

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 21, 2018, 3:40 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the Nelson's future ...

If the goal was “different” by bringing the AT&T Byron Nelson to Trinity Forest, consider it achieved. But bringing a world-class field south of Dallas could still be tricky.

Yes, the tournament can always rely on local resident and AT&T spokesman Jordan Spieth to throw his hat in the ring. But even with Spieth strolling the fairways this week, the field strength was among the worst all season for a full-point event.

The debut of the sprawling, links-like layout likely did little to sway the undecideds, with only the third round offering the challenging conditions that course co-designer Ben Crenshaw had envisioned. And the schedule won’t do them any favors next year, as a revamped itinerary likely puts the Nelson right before the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.

The course will inevitably get better with age, and Spieth expects positive word of mouth to spread. But it might be a while before the stars truly align for an event that, for the moment, feels lost in the shuffle of a hectic schedule. – Will Gray

On Jordan Spieth's putting ...

Jordan Spieth’s putting is plainly bad right now, but it isn’t going to stay this bad forever.

He is the second ranked player on Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green, just like he was last year. This putting slump has lingered, but it’s unfathomable to think this guy just forgot how to putt.

Sooner rather than later he’s going to remember he’s Jordan Spieth and the 40-footers are going to start pouring in. He’ll be telling Greller to go get the ball because he’s too far away and the tee is in the other direction.

Bottom line, the ball striking is for real and the putting slump will pass. He’ll win soon – maybe even as soon as this week. – Nick Menta

On golf and gambling ...

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court over tuned a federal ban on sports betting in most states, a move the PGA Tour and many professional sports leagues embraced as a tool to both build fan interest and grow revenue.

Experts estimate sports betting could become a $150-$200 billion annual industry, and even a small piece of that could be significant for golf, but there will be risks.

Unlike any other sport, golf is played on multiple fields simultaneously, which inherently creates risks when gambling is introduced to the equation. Although the Tour has gone to great pains to head off any potential problems, like all bets gambling comes with great rewards, and great risks. – Rex Hoggard

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Wise continues whirlwind ascent with first win

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 3:13 am

DALLAS – Still shy of his 22nd birthday, Aaron Wise continues to prove himself to be a quick learner.

Wise went from unheralded prospect to NCAA individual champ seemingly in the blink of an eye while at the University of Oregon. After eschewing his final two years of eligibility in Eugene, he won in Canada on the Mackenzie Tour in his third start as a professional.

He continued a quick learning curve with a win last year on the Tour to propel him to the big leagues, and he didn’t flinch while going toe-to-toe with Jason Day two weeks ago, even though the result didn’t go his way.

Faced with another opportunity to take down a top-ranked Aussie, Wise made sure he got the job done Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson – even though it took until dark.

With mid-day rains turning a firm and fast layout into a birdie barrage, Wise seamlessly switched gears and put his first PGA Tour title on ice in impressive fashion with a bogey-free 65. Deadlocked with Marc Leishman to start the day, Wise made six birdies in his first 10 holes and coasted to a three-shot win as the leaders barely beat the setting sun to avoid an anticlimactic Monday finish at Trinity Forest Golf Club.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

As it turned out, the hardest part of the day was enduring the four-hour weather delay alongside his mother, Karla, as his afternoon tee time turned into a twilight affair.

“She was talking to me in the hotel about what a win could mean, what a second could mean, kind of taking me through all that,” Wise said. “I was like, I’ve got to calm down. I can’t just sit here. I said, ‘You’ve got to go.’ I kind of made her leave the room.”

Wise displayed some jitters right out of the gates, with a nervy three-putt par on the opening hole. But with several players going on birdie runs to turn what seemed like a two-man race into a much more wide-open affair, Wise went on a tear of his own with four birdies in a row on Nos. 7-10.

That gave him a window over Leishman and the rest of the chase pack, and he never looked back.

“I talked to myself and kind of made myself trust my putting,” Wise said. “These greens out here are really tricky, and for me to roll those putts in on 8 and 9 really kind of separated things.”

Leishman had held at least a share of the lead after each round, and the 34-year-old veteran was looking for his third win in the last 14 months. But a bogey on No. 10 coincided with a Wise birdie to boost the rookie’s advantage from two shots to four, and Leishman never got closer than three shots the rest of the way.

“He holed putts he needed to hole, and I didn’t,” Leishman said. “Hit a couple loose shots where I could have probably put a bit of pressure on him, and didn’t. And that’s probably the difference in the end.”

Instead of sitting next to a trophy in Dallas, Wise could have been closing out his senior season next week with an NCAA appearance at Karsten Creek. But the roots of his quick climb trace back to the Master of the Amateurs in Australia in December 2015, a tournament he won and one that gave him confidence that he could hold his own against the best in the world. He returned to Eugene and promptly told his coach, Casey Martin, that he planned to turn pro in the spring.

The same dogged confidence that drove that decision has been the guiding force behind a whirlwind ascent through every rung of the professional ladder.

“I just have a lot of belief in myself. I didn’t come from a lot. A lot of people don’t know that. I didn’t get to travel a bunch when I played junior golf,” Wise said. “Kind of all along it’s been very, very few moments to shine and I have had to take advantage of them.”

Despite that belief, even Wise admits that he’s “shocked” to turn only his second real chance to contend at this level into a maiden victory. But fueled by the memories of a close call two weeks ago, he put the lessons learned at Quail Hollow to quick use while taking the next step in an increasingly promising career arc.

“It was awesome, everything I dreamed of,” Wise said. “To walk up 18, knowing I kind of had it locked up, was pretty cool.”

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Grace celebrates birthday with final-round 62

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:51 am

DALLAS – Branden Grace celebrated his 30th birthday in style, making the biggest charge of the final round at the AT&T Byron Nelson.

Grace closed out a 9-under 62 as the sun began to set at Trinity Forest Golf Club, moving from outside the top 10 into a share of third place, four shots behind Aaron Wise. It equaled Grace’s career low on the PGA Tour, which he originally set last summer at The Open, and it was one shot off Marc Leishman’s course-record 61 from the opening round.

“Good birthday present. It was fun,” Grace said. “Little bit of imagination, little bit of luck here and there. You get more luck on the links golf course than maybe on a normal golf course.”

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

Weeks after Grace’s wife gave birth to the couple’s first child, he now has his best result on the PGA Tour since winning the RBC Heritage more than two years ago. As a world traveler and former Presidents Cup participant, the South African embraced an opportunity this week to go off the beaten path on an unconventional layout.

“It feels like a breath of fresh air coming to something different. Really is nice. I really enjoyed the golf course,” he said. “Obviously I think we got really lucky with the weather, and that’s why the scores are so low. It can bite you if it settles in a little bit in the next couple years.”

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Scott barely misses qualifying for U.S. Open

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:33 am

DALLAS – A birdie on the 72nd hole gave Adam Scott a glimmer of hope, but in the end even a closing 65 at the AT&T Byron Nelson wasn’t enough to earn an exemption into next month’s U.S. Open.

Scott entered the week ranked No. 65 in the world, and the top 60 in next week’s rankings automatically qualify for Shinnecock Hills. The cutoff was a big reason why the 2008 tournament champ returned for Trinity Forest’s debut, and midway through the final round it seemed like the Aussie had a shot at snagging a bid at the 11th hour.

Scott needed at least a solo ninth-place finish to pass an idle Chesson Hadley at No. 60, and while his 5-footer on the 18th green gave him a share of sixth place when he completed play, he ultimately ended up in a three-way tie for ninth at 15 under – barely short of a spot in the top 60.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

“I tried to make the most of really favorable conditions today, and I did a pretty good job of it. Just never really got a hot run going,” Scott said. “I feel like I struggled on the weekend reading the greens well enough to really get it going, but I think everyone but the leaders did that, too. They’re not the easiest greens to read.”

Scott has played each of the last three weeks in an effort to earn a U.S. Open exemption, and he’ll make it four in a row next week when he returns to the Fort Worth Invitational on a course where he won in 2013. Scott still has another chance to avoid sectional qualifying by earning a top-60 spot at the second and final cutoff on June 11 following the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Scott has played 67 majors in a row, a streak that dates back to 2001 and is second only to Sergio Garcia among active players. While he’s prepared to play each of the next three weeks in a last-ditch effort to make the field, he’s taking his schedule one event at a time with the hope that one more good result might take care of business.

“I’ll play next week and hopefully play really well, and give myself a bit of cushion so I can take a week or so off and try to prepare the best I can for the U.S. Open,” Scott said.