Notes: LPGA rookie Kaufman quickly elevates game

Kim Kaufman during the second round of the LPGA's 2014 Marathon Classic.
Kim Kaufman during the second round of the LPGA's 2014 Marathon Classic. ( Associated Press )

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Kim Kaufman grew up in Clark, S.D. , a sleepy town with a bank, grocery store, three bars, a diner and no traffic lights.

“We grill out a lot,” Kaufman said. Unless, of course, a blizzard rolls through town, which happened so often one year that her entire high school golf season was canceled until the postseason.

Kaufman, who had 20 in her graduating class at Clark High, grew up on a nine-hole course with no water hazards and no bunkers. She has had the same instructor, Todd Kolb of Sioux Falls, since age 6. She caught the eye of other coaches, but golf was her game growing up.

“When you’re 6 feet tall, you get asked to play a lot of sports,” Kaufman said.

Today the LPGA rookie – now 50th on the money list – is the most promising player to come out of South Dakota since, well, Kris Tschetter, made a name for herself on tour in the early '90s.

In the spring of 2013, Kaufman graduated from Texas Tech with a degree in political science and won in her third start on the Symetra Tour. Early success was as much of a surprise as it was a relief, considering that she’d won only once at Texas Tech – a single-round event – but finished runner-up five times during her last two seasons.

Kaufman missed qualifying for her LPGA card by two strokes and settled for partial status. She had moved to Florida for winter training with Marissa Steen, another late-bloomer from mid-America who never stepped foot on the AJGA.

The new roommates pushed each other daily, treating practice like an office job and relishing the short-sleeved temperatures.

“Everything was just so productive,” said Kaufman, who graduated quickly to the LPGA thanks to another Symetra victory. (Steen, a three-time winner this year on the Symetra Tour, leads the season money list.)

After two starts on the LPGA, Kaufman picked up a valuable asset in veteran caddie Worth Blackwelder, who called his new boss the best overall ballstriker for whom he has looped since Beth Daniel.

While Kaufman has made the bulk of her money in two tournaments – T-4 at the North Texas LPGA Shootout and a T-5 at the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open – Blackwelder is particularly impressed by how well she responds to a “power pairing.” Her last two Sunday rounds: 67 and 66.

On the strength of her last two showings, Kaufman has qualified for her third major of the year, next week's Evian Championship, and is excited to let Blackwelder show her around France and nearby Switzerland. Kaufman’s place on the money list also gets her into the fall Asian Swing, in which she intends to play four of the six events, missing both stops in China. It will be Kaufman’s first trip to Asia, which could be troublesome, considering that she is not fond of rice, noodles or vegetables.

“I am the most American eater,” she said, laughing.

The upcoming global adventures will be well-documented on Kaufman’s detailed blog, which she started in May 2013 after turning professional.

One year later, when she missed her first cut as a professional, Kaufman wrote: “I spent Friday night enjoying a delicious meal with my host family in Williamsburg; I wasn’t on suicide watch.”

Kaufman used to sweat over her words on the blog but now simply writes how she feels and lets it fly. It’s the type of liberating experience that Blackwelder said she’s beginning to learn on the golf course as well. Kaufman shows less of a conservative mindset to make the cut and more focus on going low.

Of course, that’s a little easier now that she has qualified to play in Asia, where everyone takes home a paycheck.

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MARTIN OUT OF EVIAN: Mo Martin withdrew from next week’s Evian Championship, citing a thumb injury that has nagged her for the past month. She had the Portland Trail Blazers’ hand specialist take a look at her thumb and called Baseball Hall of Famer Johnny Bench for therapy ideas that ballplayers use for sprains.

“I think playing on it at Wegmans slowed the process a little bit,” Martin wrote in an email. “And ligaments just take so darn long to heal.”

Trainers advised Martin, who won this year's Ricoh Women’s British Open, to take off four weeks, meaning she should be healed in time for the fall Asian Swing.

“My main concern now is for it to heal properly, so I'm not prone to spraining it again,” Martin wrote. “So in the meantime, I'll have some time to organize, putt, be at the ranch (in Porterville, Calif.) and focus on my fitness.”

• • •

GULBIS RETURNS: Natalie Gulbis will compete for the first time since the U.S. Women’s Open in June when she tees it up for charity at the Suzann Pro Challenge on Sept. 6 at Oslo (Norway) Golf Club. Team USA will take on Team Europe in the third edition of Pettersen’s charity event, which raises money for Right to Play, a global organization that uses sports and games to help teach life skills to impoverished youth.

Lexi Thompson, Paula Creamer and Jessica Korda will be joining Gulbis on the U.S. team. Team Europe will counter with Anna Nordqvist, Sandra Gal, Pettersen and fellow Norwegian Caroline Martens.

• • •

AMATEURS IN EVIAN: There’s an impressive list of amateurs in the field for the year’s final major, Sept. 11-14 in Evian-les-Bains, France. Kristen Gillman, fresh off her victory at the U.S. Women’s Amateur last month, will be making her first appearance in a major.

Winners of the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur and Ladies British Amateur receive invites, which means Dane Emily Pedersen will tee it up in her second major of the year. Pedersen missed the cut at Women’s British Open.

Jing Yan, a Washington freshman, took one of two spots available in the 36-hole open qualifier held June 10-11. Minjee Lee, No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, and Duke’s Celine Boutier will compete as sponsor invites. readers: We value your input and welcome your comments, but please be respectful in this forum.