By JEFF LATZKE
BROKEN ARROW, Okla. – After topping the world rankings, Lorena Ochoa got a chance to celebrate in front of friends and family in her home country. This week, it's Stacy Prammanasudh's turn to showcase her game at home.
Off to the best start of her professional career, Prammanasudh returned to the Tulsa area this week for the SemGroup Championship at Cedar Ridge Country Club.
The former University of Tulsa star won her second career LPGA Tour title earlier this season and ranks only behind Ochoa in top-10 finishes (five), birdies (94) and the highest percentage of her rounds under par (64) this year. She's in the top five in the player of the year, money and ADT points standings.
“It definitely has been a good start,” Prammanasudh said Thursday. “I cannot complain about my previous performances. But it is a long season and I'm not trying to get ahead of myself. You've just got to try to continue what you've been doing well and work on what you haven't been doing well in the past.”
Originally from Enid in northwestern Oklahoma, Prammanasudh had only six top-10 finishes in the first three years of her career before matching that total in 2006. She needs only one more to equal that total again this season.
“Obviously, I go into every event trying to win, and so does everybody else,” Prammanasudh said. “But it's a very difficult thing to do is keep winning. You've just got to work hard and stay patient.”
Playing at what's essentially her home course, Prammanasudh expects “a few extracurricular things” this week that she doesn't get at other tour stops. She said she doesn't play Cedar Ridge that often, but regularly visits the course to practice chipping and putting.
Prammanasudh expects a few extra autograph seekers and perhaps more “Stacy P” followers than usual – something Ochoa experienced with her fans last week when she made her debut at No. 1 and contended for the title at the Corona Morelia Championship in Mexico.
“I think there's a lot of pressure involved and you do want to make sure you play good, and it's like a very special and important week for you,” Ochoa said. “But at the same time you just have to learn to enjoy it and not take it too seriously. Just be relaxed and play like it's any other week. They love you either way.”
The field lacks a clear-cut favorite. Cristie Kerr, who set a course record with a 61 in the first round last year, returns to defend her title, but three-time winner Annika Sorenstam and 2003 winner Karrie Webb won't be present.
That leaves Prammanasudh as a contender, at least in Ochoa's eyes.
“She can win any week,” Ochoa said. “I think certain golf courses suit different players, and she's a phenomenal player. She hits the ball very consistent and a tight golf course like this one is always good.”
Despite the hometown connection, Prammanasudh has never cracked the top 20 in the tournament, which relocated from the Tulsa Country Club in 2004 and moved from September to May this year to separate it from the PGA Championship to be played across town in August.
But Prammanasudh's other appearances came before a turnaround earlier this season that followed her first formal golf lessons, a change in putters, and her husband, Pete Upton, replacing her father, Lou, as her caddie.
That's allowed the couple to take in movies and an ATV tour in Hawaii earlier this year when she won the Fields Open for her first victory since the 2005 Franklin American Mortgage Championship.
“Traveling is a lot more enjoyable because there's someone to share different experiences with, so we're having a great time,” Prammanasudh said.
But on the course, it's all business. Upton, who prompted the change by mentioning he'd like to try his hand as his wife's caddie, took some pointers from Prammanasudh's father before taking over on the bag.
“I'm out there to do my thing,” Prammanasudh said. “So I don't really speak to Pete much, and he knows that. He's played and watched me play competitive golf and so he knew that going in.”
The success so far this season has made the transition a smooth one.
“When you're playing well, things are going great, it's easy out there,” Prammanasudh said. “When you're having an off week, it's a little difficult but you've just got to know going into it that you've got to leave the golf and work at the golf course.”