Ewart Shadoff helps anchor top of Kraft leaderboard

Jodi Ewart Shadoff during the second round of the 2013 Kraft Nabisco Open.

— Jodi Ewart Shadoff was the lasting image from Thursday’s first round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship – coast to coast. The 25-year-old Englishwoman putted out for 4-under 68 to keep a share of the lead, was among the very last players to leave the course, and showed up on the 10 p.m. sports show back home in Sarasota, Fla. New husband Adam Shadoff, SNN6-TV’s sports anchor, made sure to work in those highlights.

Ewart Shadoff returned an even-par 72 Friday morning to maintain a position at or near the top of the leaderboard for much of the afternoon.

This week marks the one-year anniversary of Ewart Shadoff’s first major championship start. Her biggest professional victory dates to 2011 Ladies European Tour Q-School. Even if Ewart does strike it big this weekend, it’s likely to be overshadowed by one of the most contentious points in golf – Ewart Shadoff anchors her putter.

Ewart Shadoff was peppered with questions post-round Friday about that stroke, one she’s been using since November 2011. She first tried anchoring after a SunCoast Tour event during which she had 37 putts. It was right after Keegan Bradley won the PGA Championship with a belly putter.

“All you have to do is look at my putting stats to know it’s not a huge advantage,” Ewart Shadoff joked. “If they decide to ban it, it wouldn’t be a huge issue for me. I’d have to spend a couple months really working out with a short putter, but it wouldn’t be a huge deal for me.”

Ewart Shadoff wouldn’t be the first player to win a major title with a long putter. Sherri Steinhauer did it at the 2006 Weetabix Women’s British Open, but that was before the anchoring issue hit headlines – and hard.

As for those putting stats, Ewart Shadoff ranks No. 127 on tour in putting average. She was No. 98 in that category in 2012, but didn’t play enough LPGA events in 2011, without the anchored putter, to figure into the rankings. Ewart Shadoff had 27 putts in the first round, 34 on Friday.

Still, Ewart Shadoff made great strides in her game between her rookie year of 2011 and last year. She played just two LPGA events in 2011, missing the cut in both, but played a full LPGA schedule in 2012. She rose 147 spots in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings in that time, which is remarkable considering Ewart Shadoff battled severe tendinitis in her left wrist for the second half of the year.

After her January nuptials, Ewart Shadoff began the season with the Honda LPGA Thailand and the HSBC Champions in Singapore. The season had been unspectacular until she arrived in the Coachella Valley.

A good finish at the Kraft will not only put Ewart Shadoff’s name – which soon will become just Shadoff – on the map, but could pay dividends down the road. True to her English heritage, she holds a special place in her heart for match play, naming a Solheim Cup spot as her biggest goal this season. The attention, and the points, she garners this week can only help.

Ewart Shadoff earned a spot in last year’s Sybase Match Play, an event that didn’t return to the LPGA competition schedule in 2013, and defeated European Solheim Cuppers Suzann Pettersen and Sophie Gustafson before falling to eventual champion Azahara Munoz. The Solheim Cup would be Ewart Shadoff’s first opportunity to play for her country since the 2008 Curtis Cup, played at the Old Course at St. Andrews. Ewart Shadoff turned professional immediately after graduating from the University of New Mexico in 2010.

“I definitely play more aggressively in match play and never give up,” Ewart Shadoff said. “That is one key thing to match play, is to never give up. Strange things happen in match play.”

That mentality should serve her well in the desert this weekend.

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