OAKMONT, Pa. — Oakmont Country Club has a history of identifying great players. The club’s list of champions includes the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Larry Nelson, Ernie Els, Patty Sheehan and Angel Cabrera, to name a few.
Cristie Kerr’s name would fit nicely on that list. Her recent 12-shot victory in the LPGA Championship earned her the No. 1 ranking in women’s golf, and she’s already an accomplished star with one Open title on her resume. At 32, she’s playing some of the best golf of her career.
After two days of the U.S. Women’s Open at Oakmont, she has established herself as the player to beat. When she finished Friday’s round with three birdies on her closing six holes to salvage an even-par 71, a sweet comebacker of a round, she had a 36-hole total of 143, one over par. When rain halted play on Friday, Kerr was in a seven-way tie for second behind Sophie Gustafson, who was even.
It doesn’t appear that Kerr is going away. She hit 15 greens in regulation on Friday, and 13 on Thursday. That’s what Open champions do. Especially on a course where the field is barely hitting half of the greens in regulation and half of the fairways.
A little adversity isn’t slowing Kerr down, either. She fought back from a bogey-bogey start in the opening round. On Friday morning, she doubled the 15th hole, her sixth, and bogeyed 17 and 18 before rallying for a 33 on her last nine holes.
“You have to have the patience of a saint this week on this golf course,” Kerr said. “The ebb and flow of this course is, you’re going to give some shots back, it’s going to give you a couple of opportunities to get some back. You have to hope you get more back than you give away.”
Kerr’s game is made for challenging conditions. She’s been out of the top 10 in scoring average on the LPGA only once in the last seven years. She finished 13th or better six times in Opens, including her 2007 win and her 2000 runner-up finish. She and Anna Nordqvist are tied for first in greens hit this week among players who had finished two rounds by mid-afternoon Friday. Oakmont is not a place where you’ve going to miss greens and save pars very often.
Kerr laughed about Oakmont’s difficulty level. “Oh, I’m so tired,” she said. “For example, I could only have one glass of wine last night instead of two or three.” Then she added, “Just kidding. But I mean, you’re so mentally spent. I teed off at 1 yesterday, and it was almost six hours for the round in that heat. I was exhausted when I got home.”
It figures that she’ll get an extended break now. She finished Friday afternoon, beating a heavy thunderstorm by about an hour. Kerr won’t be teeing it up again until one of the late groups Saturday afternoon.
“It’s not always easy for me to be patient,” she said. “This course kind of forces you because you don’t have a choice. If you get impatient, it will jump up and bite you. I’ve just accepted the fact that you’re going to give some shots away and, you know, sit in the weeds and kind of wait to strike. That’s my game plan coming into this week. So far it’s working.”
With two rounds left, Kerr is right where she needs to be.