PITTSFORD, N.Y. (AP) — Cristie Kerr’s dream turned into reality last year, winning the LPGA Championship in near-record fashion. She’s ready to see if her sweet swing can do it again.
“In so many ways, it was a perfect tournament,” Kerr said of her magnificent performance last June at Locust Hill Country Club. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to top that, but I’ll try. You’ve got to try.”
On a course that had been lengthened and narrowed to make it worthy of a major championship, Kerr was the leader after every round and shot 19-under 269 to match the lowest score in relation to par in a women’s major.
Kerr, the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open champion, closed with a 6-under 66, giving her a 12-shot margin of victory over Song-Hee Kim, tied for the second-largest in the history of major championships.
“I had imagined it,” Kerr said. “We all saw Tiger Woods win by 15 at Pebble Beach. I watched that and said, ‘Well, why not?’ You always think about it, but that and imagining it would happen are probably two different things, but you always kind of wish for it. I guess I wished for it because it happened.”
On Thursday, she begins the quest to make it happen again.
“I would like to defend,” Kerr said. “That’s a fun goal to be able to go and try and accomplish. I’m going to try and follow what I did last year, not put pressure on myself, try to see if I can duplicate some kind of performance that I did last year.”
As commissioner Mike Whan strives to make the LPGA a global circuit in this difficult economic climate, the 2011 schedule has made it troublesome for players to stay as sharp as they’d like.
There are only 24 official events this year, and the schedule certainly isn’t steady. Only six tournaments were held in the first four months of the year and the two in May were limited – the Sybase Match Play Championship featured just 16 players and the Brazil Cup had 30.
Kerr has not won since her triumph at Locust Hill and has fallen from her perch atop the world rankings. But she did move up two spots to second behind Yani Tseng after finishing second to the Taiwanese star two weeks ago at the State Farm Classic. Kerr’s third straight runner-up finish vaulted her past Norway’s Suzann Pettersen and Jiyai Shin of South Korea in the rankings.
At least the season is about to become much more intense. The $2.5 million LPGA Championship, sponsored by Wegmans Food Markets, begins a five-week span that also includes the U.S. Women’s Open, Evian Masters, and British Open in succession.
“I like to play,” said Kerr, who had three top-10s in her first six stroke-play tournaments this season and was the runner-up to Pettersen at Sybase. “I feel like I’m ready for competition when I’m playing a lot, and there were certainly a lot of breaks at the beginning of the year.
“It’s nice to have some time off, but this is what we do for a living. It’s nice to play, especially when you need to pay the bills. Weeks off don’t get me off the couch very often.”
Which means the more she plays the better her game gets. At the Sybase Match Play Championship, Kerr played six rounds the final three days and only her faulty putter – she missed four putts of less than 10 feet, all for hole victories – cost her the title as Pettersen won on the final hole.
Paula Creamer has four top-10s in nine events this year but hasn’t won since capturing the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open.
“I miss being in the winner’s circle. I want to have some wins under my belt,” Creamer said. “I know it’s tough with our season this year, I’ve been struggling with the weeks off and weeks on and all that kind of stuff, and I haven’t found my momentum. But it’s starting to get now where we can play a couple tournaments in a row. That’s what I like. I like to play and be competitive.”
Despite her winless streak, Kerr remains the top-ranked American player on tour, and she relishes that.
“It’s always been a goal of mine to be the No. 1 American,” she said. “There’s a lot of tough competition out there. It’s tough to be at the top, but that’s definitely where I want to be. It’s good to be in that role, and I’m comfortable there.”
At Locust Hill, where she ponders doing something special again.
“I learned that there really are no limits to how well you can play,” Kerr said. “The only limits you have are the ones that you put on yourself.
“I’ve won all sorts of different ways. This was a big test for me to be able to lead and keep going. I’m still trying to find that form again.”
Divots: Kerr, a devotee of wine, was to host a wine-tasting this week to showcase her Curvature brand. It’s a partnership with the Napa Valley’s Pride Mountain Vineyards, one of the top 100 wine estates in the world, to raise money for breast cancer research and charity. … Kerr has been in the top 10 in the rankings for 375 weeks.