As major as it is for the U.S. Women’s Open to tee off for the first time on Long Island, equally exciting is the possibility of an American taking the purse. And, specifically, a pro with Long Island roots.
“I think it will be a home crowd,” says Cristie Kerr, the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open Champion and a strong contender for the 2013 crown, which will be contested at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton this weekend. Raised in Miami, Kerr has strong family ties to Valley Stream and alternates spending time between her homes in Scottsdale, Arizona and New York City. “It kind of feels like I’m home this week, being on the road so many weeks a year.”
The 72-hole U.S. Women’s Open begins on Thursday, June 27. The Championship Round ends on Sunday, June 30.
After years of U.S. domination, the most prestigious event on the LPGA tour has seen an influx of talented Asian competitors, with golfers from South Korea winning the previous two Opens and four of the last five. South Korean sensation Inbee Park comes to the Open riding a wave of dominance, having already taken the first two majors of the year—the Kraft Nabisco and the LPGA Championship.
But if there’s an American poised to match the 24-year-old’s intensity, it’s Kerr. Wearing red, white and blue at the Hampton Golf Classic in Westhampton on Monday, Kerr was the first American player to be No. 1 in the Official Rolex World Golf Rankings, an honor earned after she won the 2010 LPGA Championship by a record 12 shots.
Despite that success, the Open remains Kerr’s favorite tournament on the tour.
“[The Open is] the richest purse, the hardest test, especially being American,” she says. “It’s the tournament I want to win the most. I won it once and I want to try and win it at least one more time.”
Kerr’s sentiment is shared by many, as the Open is by far the No. 1 event in women’s golf. For spectators, that means that all of the LPGA superstars—156 professional and amateur players in total—will descend on the East End this week, providing the best opportunity of the year to see the talent in women’s golf. The annual event has only been considered a USGA championship since 1953, indicative of how new women’s professional golf is on the national stage.
Not surprisingly, “growing” is the word Kerr would use to describe women’s golf today versus when she first turned professional in 1996. In addition to this being the first Open on Long Island, it’s also the first time the Open returns to New York State since 1973.
“[Having a women’s Open on Long Island] is long overdue,” says Kerr. “Long Island and the Hamptons really have a special feel to it for major tournaments, so it’s great to be here.”
Nestled on the Great Peconic Bay and Cold Spring Pond, Sebonack is in good company for an Open. It borders Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, which has hosted four men’s Opens, its first in 1896, and the famed National Golf Links of America. Like its neighbors, Sebonack’s location presents unique challenges, especially with the unpredictable wind factor. Relatively new to the East End golf scene, Sebonack was designed by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Doak, two professionals with wildly different styles. The end result is a course that seems much more established than its 2006 inaugural year would indicate.
“You really have to know with what pins, where they’re going to put the pin locations, where you can and can’t hit it,” said Kerr at a press conference on Tuesday. “You’re going to have to play it off some backstops, and it’s going to be a great test.”
With wide fairways and greens that are prone to becoming fast and firm, the champion will likely be determined by putting and chipping.
“They could easily lose control of this course because of the topography of the land and how firm it’s getting already,” continued Kerr. “They just need to watch it…I think that speaks to this golf course and how fast it can dry out.”
Kerr used Monday’s charity event as a practice round, and she planned on taking advantage of the open rounds at Sebonack on Tuesday and Wednesday. She was named host of the 9th Annual Hamptons Golf Classic, which benefitted the Diamonds in the Rough Foundation. Not successful solely on the course, Kerr is deeply involved in charity work. She founded the nonprofit Birdies for Breast Cancer in 2003. Together with Diamonds in the Rough, the two national organizations donated $10,000 in proceeds from the Hamptons Golf Classic to the Ellen Hermanson Breast Center at Southampton Hospital.
Kerr turned pro in 1996 at 18 years old, and persisted in her career until she captured her first LPGA victory, in 2002. With 16 total LPGA Championships now under her belt, her veteran status will serve her well at a course and event that demands the best style of golf.
“Winning motivates me,” says Kerr.
Regardless of her status, her preparations are relatable, a word often associated with women’s golf in general, as amateur golfers comment that watching women’s golf gives them realistic tips to improve their own score. “On game days, I try to eat oatmeal,” say Kerr of her typical routine. “[It helps give me] mental clarity.”
Kerr reiterated at Tuesday’s press conference that being prepared mentally is more important than the phyiscal component. “I think there is going to be a lot of drama. Long Island brings the best out in people, so I think you’re going to see a lot of great golf