McPherson finds her comfort zone

Kristy McPherson (center) and her brother Jared enjoy a ride with their father, David, on his fishing boat in Murrells Inlet.

Kristy McPherson (center) and her brother Jared enjoy a ride with their father, David, on his fishing boat in Murrells Inlet.

CONWAY, S.C. – David McPherson cast a line from his aluminum fishing boat – affectionately called the “old washtub” – and watched his children pull up in a spankin’ new 18-foot McKee Craft.

“Whose boat is that?” he asked.

“That’s your boat, Daddy,” Kristy McPherson replied.

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Kristy McPherson LPGA success allowed her to buy an 18-foot craft for her father after last year’s U.S. Women’s Open.

The McPherson clan had gathered in a spacious rental home in Murrells Inlet the week after the 2009 U.S. Women’s Open for a little R&R. While 20 family members headed out to dinner that night, David McPherson stayed back to sit in his new boat and crack open a few cold ones.

“He just kept saying, ‘I got me a fishin’ boat,’ ” Kristy said.

Four months later, she bought her parents a new brick home in Murrells Inlet, then a Buick Enclave for mom. McPherson, 28, who has yet to win on the LPGA but contended at three majors last season, knew precisely how she wanted to spread her newfound wealth. LPGA success didn’t change the family, just the scenery.

Born and raised in Conway, a river town established in 1733, McPherson is the youngest of four children born within the span of 4 1⁄2 years. Her mother, Janice, still teaches kindergarten.

“The soul of an angel,” David said of his wife.

It doesn’t take long to see where a chatty McPherson gets her deep Southern drawl. David McPherson taught her how to throw a fastball, catch a flounder, hit a golf ball and tell a good story. She carries a Taurus PT-25 pistol with a pink grip under the seat of her Cadillac Escalade, and she grew up huntin’, too.

On the range with McPherson

Want to hit it like Kristy?

McPherson’s personality is grounded in a strong belief in God, Southern hospitality and a competitive fire that can’t be missed. She’s quite popular among her fans. She’s real, and people respond to that.

“Kristy has never met a stranger,” said good friend Angela Stanford, a four-time LPGA winner who notes that McPherson has twice as many Twitter followers.

McPherson’s first victory might come at a major, and few would be surprised. She usually plods along with pars, nothing fancy, but can race up a leaderboard if her belly putter gets hot. Last year, McPherson had three top 10s in majors, her first season playing all four: T-2 at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, T-5 at the LPGA Championship and seventh at the Women’s British Open. She tied for 34th at the U.S. Women’s Open.

In her third season on tour, McPherson played her way onto a victorious U.S. Solheim Cup team and finished 16th on the money list with $816,182. She has come a long way from the girl who would search for loose change in the lazy river at water parks and rub her mom’s sore feet for a quarter.

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Kristy McPherson and her dog, Max.

McPherson – who moved to Tampa, Fla., in late 2008 – drove home to Conway in early March after playing Augusta National with her dad and Stanford. The round was a thank-you gift for donating money to the Augusta State women’s golf program, where her older brother, Kevin, is head coach.

Highlights of a downtown Conway tour include the trophy shop used by McPherson’s baseball teams (she played alongside her two brothers), pastries at The Trestle Bakery and an old-fashioned movie theater featuring “Cinderella.” In the summertime, boats line the Waccamaw River for a watery Fourth of July Parade. Around these parts, TGIF stands for “Thank God I Fish.”

On the drive to her parents’ new home, McPherson reluctantly turned down the street on which she grew up, because, as families moved away, the neighborhood went downhill. The daughter of a teacher and an electrical contractor, McPherson grew up comfortably, but not country club. She describes her former home course as “podunk.”

David McPherson, a solid amateur player, secured free rounds at a local course and eased his kids into the game with the lure of a rod and reel.

“We played golf for a hole and then fished for a hole,” he said. “Every hole had a pond.”

Golf was not McPherson’s first love. She preferred team sports, mainly baseball and basketball.

In November 1992, a mysterious rash broke out in her throat and at age 11, she was diagnosed with Still’s disease, a form of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. She spent the better part of sixth grade in bed.

When the dust settled and any sport that involved running and jumping was ruled out, golf remained.

“I would be shocked if I stood up and (my body) didn’t hurt,” McPherson said of her morning routine.

She began competing in junior events at age 14 and eventually caught the attention of several top college programs.

At the University of South Carolina, she was an inspirational leader and two-time SEC champion.

“Her time on the team certainly raised the level of pain tolerance,” said former South Carolina coach Kristi Coggins. “You just didn’t hear it (from other players).”

McPherson doesn’t look for sympathy, so it’s easy for a close friend such as Stanford to forget she lives her life

in almost constant pain. The intensity of the pain can change at a moment’s notice, particularly in the main joints: hips, knees, ankles and hands.

“I just flatten out the swing a little and try to work around the mess,” she said.

At the 2008 Longs Drugs Challenge, McPherson had a bad flare-up the morning of the third round.

“Have you ever seen ‘Hitch’?” she asked, referring to actor Will Smith’s face after an allergic reaction. The right side of McPherson’s face was so swollen that her eye was shut.

“I tried to talk and slobbered everywhere,” she said.

On the way to the first tee, McPherson told her caddie that if she whiffed, they were done.

Stanford happened to be paired with McPherson that day and feared the worst. Instead, McPherson hit the fairway and got up-and-down for par. She did the same on the second hole.

“I think by No. 7, I tried to shut one eye to see if I could do it,” Stanford said.

McPherson shot 71 playing one-eyed and eventually tied for fifth. Her dad, who has suffered two bouts with cancer, calls her “tough as a pine knot.”

Her Southern grit was on display at the Kraft Nabisco last spring, when McPherson took a one-stroke lead into the 72nd hole. Playing alongside good friend Brittany Lincicome and Cristie Kerr, McPherson found the fairway off the tee but botched her lay-up, landing on the one yardage she and her caddie didn’t want: 105 yards.

“We still don’t know what happened there,” McPherson said of the bad math.

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Brittany Lincicome (left) and Kristy McPherson walk to the 18th green during the final round of the 2009 Kraft Nabisco Championship.

McPherson’s approach into the par-5 18th came up too short to put pressure on Lincicome, who hit the hybrid of her life from 210 yards to 4 feet. Lincicome, hands shaking, drained the eagle putt to beat McPherson and Kerr by one stroke.

While there are no hard feelings between the two friends, McPherson still throws Lincicome the occasional jab. Particularly when she pulls out a hybrid.

“I said to her, ‘Dude, every time you hit that hybrid now, you chunk-shank it,’ ” she said, laughing.

“That would’ve worked Sunday at the Kraft.”

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