Clanton soaking up Kraft Nabisco experience

Cydney Clanton during the first round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Women's Rankings »

RankNameSchoolRating
1Alison LeeUCLA  69.96 
2Stephanie MeadowAlabama  70.17 
3Gaby LopezArkansas  70.29 
4Noemi JimenezArizona St  70.31 
5Celine BoutierDuke  70.40 

Women's Team Rankings »

RankNameRatingEvents
1Southern California 70.64  13 
2UCLA 70.83  12 
3Duke 70.89  11 
4Stanford 71.74  13 
5Arizona State 71.75  12 

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Nearly finished with a memorable four-year career at Auburn, Cydney Clanton is about to enter the unpredictable territory between college success and making a living on the golf course. Thanks to the amateur legacy at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, Clanton has a little more experience in her bag for when she turns professional after graduation.

“I think (the Kraft) is a great way to prepare amateurs, just to be out here and to get the feel and to kind of see how things work,” Clanton said after the opening round at Mission Hills Country Club.

But for an expected run-in with Poppie’s Pond, Clanton said she was pleased with a 5-over 77 to kick off the tournament. She is one of three active college players in the field for the season’s first major, joining Pepperdine sophomore Danielle Kang and USC junior Lisa McCloskey. Arkansas freshman Emily Tubert also was extended an invitation, but passed so that she could play the final regular-season event with her team.

Since the other five 2010 amateur invitees turned professional in the past year, Clanton was the only one to score a return trip this year. She told head coach Kim Evans long ago that this was one she couldn’t miss, and Evans agreed. Besides, with the rest of the team at the revamped Liz Murphey Collegiate this week – where all five players from a team play in the same group – Clanton said it might be better that she wasn’t there.

“I don’t think anyone has ever seen me play seriously on my team,” she said with a wry smile.

It’s possible that the same could be said for an easygoing Kang, who grinded out a 77 in Round 1, but walked out of the scoring tent just before dusk with a smile on her face.

“I’ve always wanted to play Nabisco because it’s in California and there are no tournaments in California – so friends and family can come watch,” Kang said.

Kang, the reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, repeatedly sings the praises of playing the U.S. Open at beastly Oakmont Country Club last summer. The experience taught her a thing or two about her own game and gave her an edge many other amateurs just don’t have.

Set up for a major, Mission Hills isn’t playing as easy as Kang might have expected, either.

“It’s like the Open. I was not expecting as much – it’s still Mission Hills – but they made this really difficult,” she said.

There may not be any jumps into Poppie’s Pond for these amateurs on Sunday, but playing in the Kraft is a welcome experience for the jump from amateur to pro to come later in their careers.

• • •

Short shots: Wake Forest came out on top at the Bryan National Collegiate, with Tennessee’s Erica Popson winning individual honors ... Iowa State continued its good play this spring by winning the Mountain View Collegiate by six shots over Oklahoma and seven shots over Arkansas. Emily Tubert of Arkansas won her third tournament of the year.

• • •

A look ahead...

EAST

What: Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic

When: April 1-3

Where: University of Georgia GC, Athens, Ga.

Why it’s important: The only detail that can upstage the massive (and impressive) field this year in Athens is the change to the tournament’s format. Teams will play together, and count the lowest four scores from each hole toward the team score. It shouldn’t change the game for the contenders, which include Alabama, Arkansas, Duke, LSU and Purdue. Also keep an eye on the host.

WEST

What: Ping/ASU Invitational

When: April 1-3

Where: Karsten GC, Tempe, Ariz.

Why it’s important: The usual suspects are back in action, in what amounts to a Pac-10 tuneup. Keep an eye on how Arizona State performs at home, and also what kind of performances newly top-ranked USC and UCLA (No. 2) turn in. Also of note is California, a team that had been rolling until hitting a snag at Rancho Bernardo and finishing 13th out of 17.

• • •

Four questions with Four LPGA players – and former college stars – at the Kraft Nabisco Championship: What was your favorite college event?

Stacy Lewis, Arkansas (2004-08)

“The Liz Murphey. Just the time of the year was pretty nice. I always liked going to Athens.”

Laura Diaz, Wake Forest (1993-97)

“ACCs were always fun for us. There were only four teams, but our team loved ACCs. I enjoyed going to Furman’s golf tournament because I liked the course.”

Angela Stanford, TCU (1996-2000)

“One in the fall, one in the spring. Furman in the fall. South Carolina is beautiful; I like the golf course. ASU in Phoenix (in the spring); I love that golf course and hanging with all the Ping guys.”

Reilley Rankin, Georgia (1998-2001)

“The Liz Murphey was always great because I loved the golf course and Georgia, but NCAAs was probably my favorite, especially the year we won. I’d have to say in ‘01 when we won the NCAAs, but every time we played NCAAs, I liked it.”

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