It’s my maiden voyage at an LPGA event, let alone one of their majors. I’ve been excited for this week ever since the rest of the NLU crew came home from the Kia Classic earlier this year raving about the atmosphere and environment out there. Like always, my goals when attending a tournament are two-fold: 1) see and experience as much of the course, grounds, and scenery as possible; and 2) get out and follow players with whom I am relatively unfamiliar. On both those points I think the first two days of action from Kemper Lakes has been a success. Here are some notes from my time spent out around the course:
Right after lunch on Thursday I went out to walk with the group of Giulia Molinaro, Amelia Lewis and Sophia Popov. Caught them going off 10 tee to start their round. To say they were playing deliberate would be an understatement (they completed three holes of play in 52 minutes). A rules official was pushing them to get in position after completing their second hole (not sure if they were ever officially placed on the clock or not). I think the pace was frustrating Popov as she was trying to push things by teeing off early on the next tee before Lewis and Molinaro arrived sometimes. I’ll say this too, the glacial pace was pretty much all on the greens. Lots of time spent looking at and studying putts.
Was privy to an amusing interaction between, I believe, Amelia Lewis’s mother and the wife of her caddie. After Lewis had come up short with approach shots two holes in a row, Mrs. Lewis informed the caddie’s wife that her husband was on the bag to avoid play like that. Something to the effect that if they wanted to come up short she would’ve had George on the bag this week. Anyway, the caddie’s wife muttered something about the compensation package after Mrs. Lewis had walked away. Was a bit tense, and if I’m being honest, exactly the type of situation I’m out in the nether-reaches of the action hoping to witness.
Had a random lawn equipment flare up on #13 right in the midst of Sophia Popov’s putt for par. She missed it, a three-putt bogey, and was rather pissed.
On the 15th tee, Giulia Molinaro backed off her tee shot because of a slamming port-o-john door. There’s a whole cluster of them placed precariously close to the teebox. I legitimately think a mistimed entrance/exit could impact scorecards. Also, I’m available to consult on optimal toilet positioning…
I said goodbye to this trio as they made the turn on to the front-nine. I am worried I was a black cloud on their play, as I witnessed just one birdie from the group–Popov made three on the 18th hole. It didn’t get too much better for them on the front side, with just three combined birdies and scores of 74 for Molinaro, 77 for Lewis (will George be on the bag next week?), and 75 for Popov.
I wanted to see the front nine at Kemper Lakes, so after a quick cold water in the media center I latched on with the trio of Mel Reid, Jin Young Ko, and Peiyun Chien making the turn off the back nine onto the front side. I was keen to see Mel Reid specifically as her ballstriking reputation preceded her, and I’m happy to report, it did not disappoint. She immediately stuck it close at #1 and #2 for birdie and really deserved a couple more on her nine but the putter let her down a bit. After a disappointing bogey on her last hole it was a closing 35 and an overall 71 to put her firmly in the mix after the first day. Below is Mel hitting her tee shot on the par-3 6th hole.
As impressed as I was with Mel Reid’s irons, I may have been even more taken by Jin Young Ko’s overall game. Her rhythm is impeccable, she always appears to be in complete control, and never changed demeanor once. Extremely steady. This is actually her rookie year on the LPGA but she has extensive experience in Korea, having won 10 times on the KLPGA. Won earlier this year on the LPGA in Australia and is currently 5th in Race to the CME. Overall was a situation where it was, ‘come for Mel Reid’s iron game and stay for Jin Young Ko’s complete arsenal.’
On the other end of the spectrum, Peiyun Chien was fighting her swing the entire time I was with the group. She must have set a world record for number of TourSauce-esque rehearsals after shots. She was visibly upset and was not playing well, though, like most of these women, I really enjoyed her rhythm and swing.
Kemper Lakes is kind of an odd place. Built in 1979 by the Kemper Insurance Company, it is the design of Ken Killian and Dick Nugent. It hosted the 1989 PGA Championship (won by Payne Stewart), as well as the 1992 US Women’s Amatuer (Vicki Goetze defeated somebody named Annika Sorenstam). After my first spin around the course during Tuesday’s Pro-Am where I watched Soly and Michelle Wie dig trenches, I was telling Soly in the car afterward that I couldn’t really remember more than three green complexes. None of the holes really stood out. Well, after walking it again, Kemper Lakes is growing on me. In my mind it’s like a Nicklaus-Lite type course, with some funky features tee to green and then awkwardly positioned greens which have some natural quadrants in them. I think it will show out really well on TV as there are a number of interesting bunkers, water cut-ins, etc. I’m confident it will produce good drama down the stretch Sunday too.
Now to the odd part. I mentioned it was built by the Kemper Insurance Company. Well, it’s situated smack dab in the middle of their former world headquarters, which as I understand it now, is an office park for multiple companies. And having been built in the 1970’s, there’s not much of an aesthetic as you can see below.
Kemper Lakes is littered with plaques commemorating various things specific to the course and the hole in question. Makes for some interesting reading while walking around the course. One plaque I stumbled upon was this one:
The first thing which struck me about this particular plaque was the nickname of Mike Reid (“Radar”–that’s so good). I also really enjoyed his quote about tackling the giant (“I’m ready to ride giants, Koonu!“). Anyway, it caused me to dig into the 1989 PGA Championship, and oh boy, am I glad I did! I had no idea the story of Mike Reid! Radar held the 18, 36, and 54 hole leads that week. In fact, he had a three shot advantage with three holes to play (entering the Kemper self-glossed, “Gauntlet”). Things obviously went sideways for Radar as he bogeyed 16, doubled 17, and then could only make par on 18 to lose by a stroke to Payne Stewart.
I urge you guys to read Tim Rosaforte’s story about Mike Reid and what he feels 29 years later. Fascinating story. I had no idea.
On Friday I walked nine holes with the group of Daniela Iacobelli, Lisa Grimes and Dani Holmqvist. I’d heard Iacobelli was a free spirit, and holy shit, she certainly was. Was walking to the first tee alongside her when somebody asked her how she was doing. “Pretty shitty” was her immediate response (she shot 78-80, so it was a truthful reply). I think she ripped three heaters the first two holes I followed her, which, I don’t know, there’s something about cigarettes on the golf course which I really like. Very old school. Feels right.
Dani Holmqvist had a tidy game, never getting herself into bad positions en route to rounds of 70-71 and most likely a top-10 spot heading into the weekend.
The third member of the group, Lisa Grimes, is a teaching pro. Speaking of teaching pros, another lady by the name of Jean Bartholomew had an amazing two-shot sequence I witnessed on Thursday. On the 7th hole, a par-5, she was playing her third shot from the middle of the fairway. About 100 yards away or so, short iron in her hand. Jean hit the coldest of cold shanks out to the right into the trees. The kind you can’t un-see. Well, what does she do on her fourth shot? She hits this little thin, de-lofted wedge to literally two inches! An amazing par. Blessed I was there to witness.
If you’re so inclined, television coverage this weekend will be 3pm to 6pm EST on Saturday and Sunday on NBC. As I type this, the leaderboard contains So Yeon Ryu, Brooke Henderson, Sung Hyun Park, Jessica Korda, Lydia Ko, Moriya Jutanugarn, and Danielle Kang. In other words, it’s shaping up to be a good one.