LPGA: Teeing It Up in Guadalajara

July 7, 2012; Kohler, WI, USA; Christie Kerr checks out her ball on the ninth green during the third round of the U.S. Womens Open at Blackwolf RuMandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports
July 7, 2012; Kohler, WI, USA; Christie Kerr checks out her ball on the ninth green during the third round of the U.S. Womens Open at Blackwolf RuMandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports /

The Lorena Ochoa Invitational Presented by Banamex is an elite affair: Thirty-six top golfers playing golf together in the relaxing atmosphere of the Guadalajara County Club in Guadalajara, Mexico, hanging out together in the clubhouse after their rounds, eating Mexican food and drinking margaritas.  The players who receive an invitation to play in the Lorena Ochoa regard it as the penultimate event of the season.

On the surface it sounds more like one of my girls’ golf weekends at the beach than a contest among golf’s top women stars.  But there’s a $1 million purse at stake as well as a stunning, handcrafted ceramic and tooled-silver trophy.  There are points to be accumulated in the race to win Rolex Player of the Year.  This is a real tournament and Christie Kerr is the 2012 defending champion.  Six of the top-10 in the Rolex Rankings are slated to be in the field including No. 1 Inbee Park, No. 2 Suzann Pettersen, No. 3 Stacy Lewis and the 2011 Lorena Ochoa Invitational champ No. 10 Catriona Matthew.

The Defending Champ

Cristie Kerr has one of the most decorated resumes on the LPGA Tour with 16 victories already under her belt, but the Floridian has yet to successfully defend a win since joining the Tour in 1997. All that could change this week however as Kerr returns to Guadalajara, Mexico where she will attempt to hoist the Lorena Ochoa Invitational  trophy for the second consecutive year.

"I feel like my game is very good right now and mentally I’m in a better place than I have been all year.Christie Kerr"

If Kerr is able to notch her 17th career LPGA Tour victory this week, she will become the first repeat winner of the Lorena Ochoa Invitational Presented by Banamex.

The Chase for Rolex Player of the Year

Inbee Park has had a season to remember this year as she has recorded six LPGA Tour victories.  But the current Rolex Rankings No. 1 admitted to feeling a bit abnormal since capturing her third major title of the year at the U.S. Women’s Open in June.

"I don’t think I was actually normal after the U.S. Open. . .  Every tournament has not been easy for me, I’ve been under a lot of pressure.Inbee Park"

Park would have to be superhuman to have been unaffected by the intense public hype that follower her from victory to victory during the spring and early summer.  And Park admits that the Rolex Player of the Year award has been a preoccupying issue for her since she won the US Women’s Open, that “no matter how much effort I put into trying not to think about it, I think about it.”  How will this impact on her performance at the Lorena Ochoa?

Park isn’t the only player who’s thinking intently about the award.  Suzann Pettersen wants badly to pass Park and take that prize.  She seems poised to do it.  Pettersen already has four victories under her belt, including one major title and her wins have come in the latter half of the season. While Pettersen is looking to cap off an already successful year, she has an opportunity to move to No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings with a solid finish at this week’s Lorena Ochoa Invitational.

Big Break

After a season on the Symetra Tour that produced a season-best tie for 29th at the Island Resort Championship, Taylor Collins heads south of the border this week as she prepares to tee-it-up in her first-ever LPGA Tour event.  Known as “Mighty Mouse” for her fiery competitive nature, Collins emerged victorious on Golf Channel’s Big Break Mexico to earn one of 36 coveted spots into this week’s Lorena Ochoa Invitational Presented by Banamex.  On Tuesday, the Floridian could be seen playing a practice round at Guadalajara Country Club and according to Collins, playing alongside some of the best female golfers in the world will be an experience to remember.

Let’s keep an eye on Collins and see how she handles this opportunity.

Tee Time

Angela Stanford, Sandra Gal, and Taylor Collins are first off the #1 tee tomorrow morning at 10:20, and Christie Kerr, Suzann Pettersen, and Amy Yang, the final group, tee off at 12:21pm.  By 5pm they should all be in the club house enjoying their margaritas, and I’ll be working the spreadsheets.   I’ll provide a first round wrap-up tomorrow evening.