England’s Ewart thriving in desert golf setting

Jodi Ewart at No. 1 on Friday at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Jodi Ewart at No. 1 on Friday at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Jodi Ewart will easily make the cut in her first major. Through the morning wave of Round 2 at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, she even remained in contention.

Heads are just beginning to turn in Ewart’s direction, and deservedly. She doesn’t occupy prime real estate in the Rolex rankings just yet – she’s currently No. 248 – but in the first two domestic starts of the LPGA season, Ewart has finished T-7 (at the Kia Classic) and T-18 (at the Founders Cup). She’s at 2 under for the Kraft after rounds of 69-73.

Ewart, of England, talks of her love of desert golf, which is one reason the West Coast swing has been the setting for the beginnings of LPGA success. She’s something of a chameleon in that sense. After four years playing for the University of New Mexico, where she maintained the lowest stroke average in program history and had five career victories, she calls herself a “desert rat.”

“When you come out here to not super grainy greens, it seems a lot easier because you’re not having to read the grain and stuff,” she said, admitting she’s always felt more comfortable on Bentgrass as opposed to Bermudagrass greens.

Regardless of the grain, Ewart is putting considerably better this season, and she attributes that to jumping on the belly putter bandwagon in November – something that’s instantly noticeable about her on the course. She’s one of only a handful of LPGA players to do it, and explains she made the switch right around the time players like Adam Scott and Keegan Bradley experienced success with the club on the PGA Tour. After a SunCoast Tour round last fall in which she had 37 putts, Ewart decided something had to change.

“If I keep doing what I’ve been doing I’m only going to keep doing what I’ve been doing,” she said.

Ewart remains No. 89 on the tour in putting average. A powerful drive leaves her at No. 25 in driving distance, No. 42 in accuracy. In last year’s rookie season, Ewart only played in two LPGA events, missing the cut both times. She spent the rest of the season grinding through the Futures Tour schedule, earning four top 10s in 13 starts. She finished fourth at LPGA Q-School in 2011, and her breakthrough came at Ladies European Tour Q-School not long after. She won by two shots.

Ewart says she was swinging sweetly during qualifying season thanks to long-time coach Andy Marshall, whom she flies from England to the States occasionally for a lesson. She’s feeling good about her ballstriking again thanks to a lesson that followed two starts in Australia to begin the year.

This season, Ewart also has a full-time sports psychologist from England. That’s in addition to added confidence created by a longer flat stick, even though that misbehaved a little on Friday. Cue the mental toughness.

“Today is a great example, I really just didn’t hole anything but I managed to stay patient and take one shot at a time,” she said. “I tried not to get ahead of myself. That’s been one of my key things in my game.”

Ewart is building her competition schedule piece by piece as she moves through the year. The Kraft is her first major, and while an honor to be in the field, Ewart is anxiously waiting to find out if she can get into the Sybase Match Play in May.

“That’s the one tournament that I’m really looking forward to playing,” she said.

It makes sense for a Curtis Cup alum (she was on the GB&I squad in 2008) and a European player who grew up playing the format.

Ewart now lives in Sarasota, Fla., where her fiance Adam Shadoff works as a TV sportscaster. The two met when Ewart was a sophomore in college -- Shadoff interviewed Ewart after she won the Mountain West Conference Championship in 2008 and proposed last March.

Living in Florida has afforded Ewart the luxury of practicing all through the winter, and “literally all day long.” It’s yet another change she references when talking about the spring’s success.

Now that the West Coast is her home away from home (and truly far away from home home in England), Shadoff’s parents, who traveled from their home in Albuquerque this week, have become her surrogate family. You can spot them in the crowd by their “Jodi’s Gallery” t-shirts.

Who said the desert isn’t a place to thrive?

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