‘Surreal’ day

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. - Brittany Lincicome never saw this coming. She knew her game was on the upswing, but nothing that would suggest she’d be leading after Round 1 of the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Eight birdies, two bogeys and several mega-watt smiles later, she’s back in the spotlight.

“It was surreal, really,” Lincicome said.

“I was making almost everything I looked at.”

It has been a bumpy ride for the long-bombing blonde from Seminole, Fla. After winning one tournament apiece in 2007 and ’06, Lincicome, 23, fell off the map. She dropped to 92nd on the LPGA money list last year, posting one top-10 finish. She has always hit it long, but didn’t necessarily know where it was going.

Just how good was today’s 6-under 66? Last year she broke 70 only five times.

“Everything was really bad,” said Lincicome as she played in the Tuesday pro-am this week. It didn’t help that a series of unfortunate events caused her to tear through a lifetime of caddies last year.

“I swear I’m the nicest person in the world,” she said. To be fair, most of those caddie complications were completely out of her control. And she is one of the LPGA’s most personable players.

It was an opening-round 66 at another major that first catapulted Lincicome into the national spotlight. She led the 2004 U.S. Women’s Open after Round 1 as an amateur, eventually tying for 55th. That helped cement the decision to skip college and turn professional.

I first met Lincicome in a high school golf match; I was a senior, and she was a 12-year-old homeschooled kid. The 5-foot-10-inch talent was powerful even back then, and though I don’t remember what either of us shot, I do remember that she won. No shame in that.

Growing up, Lincicome’s best friend called her “Snacks” because “if you go look in my bag right now I have a small 7-11.” On the LPGA, she’s known as “Bam Bam” for her crazy length.

Lincicome comes from a blue-collar family, and her heart is as big as her drives. She owns three houses, but still doesn’t live on her own. Lincicome co-owns the home she lives in with her parents. She also bought a house for her older brother and nephew, and pays all her grandmother’s bills. Last year she toyed with the idea of buying another piece of property, but was convinced by good friend Angela Stanford to wait until she had more money.

“Money basically runs the world so when you’re not playing well, you’re not making money,” Lincicome said.

“Obviously, I didn’t buy it.”

In the offseason, Lincicome put her clubs away for a month and spent most of her time fishing from her 22-foot Cape Craft boat. Lincicome has long idolized Laura Davies, and even shares her distaste for practice. That doesn’t exactly bode well for players in a slump.

When the R&R was over, Lincicome started working with Craig Shankland at LPGA International in an effort to change things up. On the road, her father, Tom, serves as a second set of eyes. When she travels to Morelia later this month, it will be only the second tournament in five years she has traveled alone.

Tom Lincicome was bursting with pride when his daughter walked into the media room Thursday afternoon. She gave a friendly nudge to Stanford, who shot 5 under and was finishing up with the press.

Lincicome and Stanford are staying in the same house this week and have spent time together doing speed drills on the putting green for $20 per game.

“I think a lot of times younger players, you know, they get a lot of success early and golf is a tough game,” Stanford said. “She’s got a lot going on in her life. And good stuff, not necessarily bad.”

Lincicome beams when she talks about her boyfriend. She likes the fact that she can live a normal life as a professional athlete. People still mention her name when talking about young American players, but she didn’t quite capitalize on the momentum gained from wins at the ’07 Ginn Open and ’06 HSBC Women’s World Match Play Championship. Both of those tournaments no longer exist.

“If you want a tournament to go away ...” Lincicome said with a laugh.

Should Lincicome somehow manage to keep it together and win this week, the Kraft Nabisco isn’t likely to disappear.

Neither will Lincicome’s smile.

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