RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – The Kraft Nabisco is a tournament heavy in tradition, and a week during which LPGA legends are easy to spot. First-round morning co-leader Suzann Pettersen had her “aha” moment with Kathy Whitworth during 2009’s tournament. The 88-time LPGA winner shook Pettersen’s hand at Mission Hills and delivered a memorable line.
“(She) said don’t ever let the passion get in my way,” Pettersen remembered on Thursday. “It’s really spot on. Just need to get up there and hit the shots that I’m seeing.”
Pettersen says on-course enjoyment is the hardest part of the game for her. Thursday’s bogey-free 68, however, left a smile on her face. It’s a notable number, considering the Kraft Nabisco venue’s difficult reputation, not to mention early-week talk of 3-inch rough on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course.
“You ask me on Sunday if I can go four bogey-free rounds, I’ll be very happy,” said Pettersen, who is tied for the early lead with Na Yeon Choi. The two played together on a hot, still day in the desert.
Pettersen, who made birdies at Nos. 7, 16, 17 and 18, said she had only one up-and-down par. Choi, also bogey-free, made the first of her four birdies at No. 14, courtesy of a long putt.
Pettersen called the course perfect – pure and firm greens, a few tucked pins, deep rough.
“I couldn’t ask for a better start,” she said.
For Choi, accuracy played a big role in the day’s round. She missed just one fairway, and says that’s a result of talking to her swing coach after the Kia Classic about focusing on every shot.
“Today I really tried to focus 100 percent with every shot, and then, I mean, after the round I didn’t have any regret,” she said.
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PLEASANT SURPRISE: Angel Yin, just 14, can now say she has led in a major championship. Yin was 2 under after her first two holes Thursday morning, which briefly took her to the top of the leaderboard.
Yin, who averaged 246 yards off the tee and hit seven fairways on her way to a 1-over 73, missed the first two fairways of the day but put her approach shot to just inside 10 feet on both holes. On her way to the third tee, Yin took a peek at the scoreboard, noticed her name on top, then tried to forget what she had just seen.
“Being an amateur, I qualified to play in this, and I didn’t expect to play so well,” she said. “So seeing myself on the leaderboard for the first time was just really exciting. I was afraid I would mess it up.”
This is Yin’s second LPGA event, after last year’ U.S. Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wis., and she has learned to “treat it as a normal tournament.” Yin had her struggles at the end of the day, making double bogey out of a bunker at the par-3 17th, then putting an aggressive drive into the water at No. 18. The 17th offered another learning experience.
“I was teeing off and I heard a roar and I didn’t step (off),” she said. “I should have done that; I should have went back and did my routine again.”
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HAPPY ANNIVERSARY: This year’s Kraft marks the one-year anniversary of Austin Ernst’s first professional tournament. At this time last year, Ernst had won an NCAA individual championship, yet had never teed it up in an LPGA event. Playing as an amateur, she opened with 77, came back with 70 to make the cut, then closed with rounds of 68-77 for a T-49 finish.
Ernst, 21, had two birdies and two bogeys Thursday, but lost ground with a double bogey at No. 9 after hitting her approach at the par-5 long and ending up behind a tree. She shot 74.
Ernst turned professional over the summer and earned her card at LPGA Q-School. She has played three events this season and has made the cut every time. Last year, Ernst had father Mark on the bag, but this year she’s using veteran tour caddie Tony Lingard as a permanent looper.
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NO REASON TO PANIC: World No. 1 Stacy Lewis double-bogeyed her fourth hole of the day, but rebounded for a 1-over 73.
Lewis said it was “a strange day,” during which she found a few divots, spent much of the day between clubs and didn’t trust her swing.
“This course, you’re never really out of it,” said Lewis, who won in 2011. “You can shoot a good number one day and be right there. I just kind of had to fight through it a little bit today.”
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KORDA REUNION: Even Jessica Korda sometimes has to do a double take when she sees her father Petr, a former tennis star, approaching.
“I haven’t seen (my parents) since January, and they both came off the plane here, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God. You guys are so tall,’” said Korda, who stand 5 feet, 11 inches.
Korda, who opened with a 2-under 70, has played every event this season, and as her face becomes more familiar on this tour, she is asked to give more of her time. Since winning last year’s season-opening Australian Open, Korda says she has played every pro-am since. This week she drew celebrity partners Craig T. Nelson and Joel Gretsch.
That Australian victory just happened to coincide with a change of travel plans. Korda spent 2011, her rookie year, traveling with her dad. The Kordas decided to try a different setup at the beginning of 2012. Korda now travels alone, but frequently rooms with Jodi Ewart Shadoff. It’s allowed her to figure things out for herself.
“It just works better that way,” she said. “You kind of figure out a little bit who you are and what you like. As a junior player, you depend so much on your parents. … It was kind of nice to figure things out your own way.”
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THE NEXT GENERATION OF SPANISH SPICE: A common comparison between college events and LPGA events is the increased yardages that await on tour. Florida sophomore Camilla Hedberg, from Spain, shrugs that right off.
“My dad is caddieing for me, and the other day I told him I think some of the courses we play in college are longer than this one,” said Hedberg, who opened with 72. “The rough is way tougher on this one, but I don’t think it plays any longer.”
The biggest surprise? Mission Hills’ noise level.
“I already expected it to be big and so many people, but I think seeing it and hearing everyone really was a little bit of a surprise.”