KOHLER, Wis. –- Cindy LaCrosse’s soft-spoken nature leads you to believe she’s not one for shenanigans. That’s not entirely true.
After detailing her opening 1-over 73 at Blackwolf Run, LaCrosse shrugged and blushed as a YouTube video surfaced of her and a handful of LPGA cohorts dancing to D.J. Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win” in front of the charter plane that brought them from last week’s Northwest Arkansas Championship to the U.S. Women’s Open.
On the course, LaCrosse doesn’t show much emotion, even on Thursday as she shared the early lead at 2 under, climbed to 1 over then fought back to even. A bogey at the difficult closing hole left LaCrosse at 1 over, a respectable score on a layout stretched to nearly 7,000 yards this week. Then she uttered a sentence not heard from many players so far this week, especially during a dangerous Midwest heat wave: “It felt good out there.”
LaCrosse, a talented collegiate player at Louisville, breezed through the Symetra (nee Futures) Tour season in 2010 with three wins to finish atop that tour’s money list and earn her LPGA card for the following year. She finished No. 65 on the money list in 2011, which was enough to earn a third trip to the Women’s Open. She hopes this year’s will be more successful than last year’s.
LaCrosse opened a weather-plagued week at The Broadmoor in 2011 with a 1-under 71 that left her in 11th place. She returned an 80 to miss the cut. This year, she prepared differently, visiting Blackwolf Run earlier in the year then playing no more than nine holes early week.
“Even starting well I need to still have expectations for the next day,” said LaCrosse, well aware that anyone’s game can turn, especially at a major. “There are going to be completely different pins, probably different tee boxes so it’s a completely different day. Just kind of preparing.”
LaCrosse, 25, has made only six major appearances so far in her career, counting this week. She’s started well but hasn’t quite been able to finish. At last year’s Wegman’s LPGA Championship, she played her way into the final group on Sunday, but trailing World No. 1 Yani Tseng, and paired with her for the final round, LaCrosse shot 5-over 77 to fall from second to T-14.
Still, LaCrosse seems likely to figure it out. As dad Doug, an accomplished player in his own right who recently regained his amateur status, says, she’s this close.
A student of Sean Foley, LaCrosse knows it’s about the shots from 100 yards and in, what you might call her secret weapon. If she plays it right, Blackwolf Run will present plenty of those.
“I do feel comfortable with wedges, but they are releasing quite a bit so I have to pay attention,” she said.
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Just like old times: It’s good to have insurance anywhere, but it’s especially important at a national championship. And insurance is how Se Ri Pak, who won the Women’s Open last time it was played at Blackwolf Run, calls her birdie-birdie start on Thursday. She needed that cushion later in the round as she double-bogeyed No. 8, courtesy of an unplayable, then bogeyed Nos. 13 and 16 because of water hazards.
“You don’t really want a big number,” she said.
Pak is noticeably high profile this week at Blackwolf Run. As she said of the crowds that picked her up early in the morning and watched as she posted even-par 72, “All the fans out there, every single person, they walk and they want to see me again here.”
The most visible of those fans? Herb Kohler, true royalty here in the town that shares his surname. Kohler, with his silver hair, tan sport coat and suspenders (despite the oppressive heat) was waiting outside the scoring trailer when Pak emerged. They’ve become quite close in the 14 years since Pak won here, and now Pak is even sponsored by Kohler, though she calls that more of a friendship than a business.
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More veterans: Aside from Pak, only eight other players returned this week that were in the field in 1998. Among those was Wendy Ward. The 39-year-old hung in the mix early in the day, shooting even-par 72.
Since she last played a tournament here, USGA officials have lengthened the course by 500 yards. Ward barely noticed.
“I think I fared well because I don’t remember much of the golf course from ‘98,” she said. “I remember 18, I remember (Nancy) Lopez and Meg (Mallon) and Dottie (Pepper) walking up with their towels and that’s about it. So I don’t remember a whole lot.”
This week marks Ward’s 16th U.S. Women’s Open start.
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Last-minute chance: Song-Hee Kim, who has finished in the top 10 in LPGA events 29 times in the past three years, withdrew from the field Thursday morning, allowing Australian Cathryn Bristow to fill her afternoon tee time.
Kim cited a sore neck and back.
Bristow, in her third season on the Symetra Tour, was the second alternate from the Frisco, Texas, sectional qualifier.