Like the wine she is so passionate about, Cristie Kerr is maturing with age and her opening effort in the £1.2 million Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open at Dundonald Links was certainly of the vintage variety.
In blustery morning conditions on the Ayrshire coast, the 39-year-old produced the golfing equivalent of uncorking an expensive bottle from her own Kerr Cellars with a flawless six-under-par 66, bettered only by Australian Karrie Webb when the wind died down later in the day.
”I think it’s one of the top rounds I’ve played over here,” said Kerr, who, after starting at the 10th, sparked her effort with a birdie at the 120-yard 11th before picking up further shots at the 14th, 17th, 18th, where she two-putted from 100 feet, fifth and ninth. “I controlled my ball really well out there with the crosswinds and trajectory, so I’m very pleased with that score.”
Kerr, of course, has been coming to Scotland for a number of years and, similar to Matt Kuchar when he was at this same venue a fortnight ago for the men’s equivalent before going on to finish runner-up to Jordan Spieth in the Open Championship on Sunday, the 19-time LPGA Tour winner relishes the challenge of playing links golf.
“It’s some of my favourite golf,” she said. “Today I told my caddie on the back nine that it seems like the tougher the conditions, the more I like it for some reason. It’s never easy, but it allows you to play different shots and be more artistic. I like to be challenged mentally and these kind of conditions force you to focus on the shot at hand and not get ahead of yourself, and I did that really well today. What I was seeing and visualising, it was happening.”
A 21-year LPGA Tour veteran, Kerr is long enough in the tooth to know that, despite her promising start, there’s a long way to go before she can begin to even think about a second victory of the season, having landed the Lotte Championship in Hawaii in April. “You can never take anything for granted here,” she said, smiling. “I’m not going to get too high after this round. I’m going to enjoy today and tomorrow is going to be another tough day.”
Hopefully it will be a little warmer than it was for Kerr and the other morning starters in the first round.
To combat both the wind and cold, she wore snazzy ear muffs and also had hand warmers in her pockets. Even so, it was a big improvement on what she encountered for Wednesday’s pro-am.
“Yesterday was a horrid day and my team quit after four holes because they had no rain gear and they were all soaking wet,” she said. “I felt so bad for them, but I was like, ‘I don’t blame you guys’.” Engaging about her golf, Kerr’s eyes lit up even brighter when she was asked about her main passion off the course. “I’ve just passed my level one sommelier exam,” she revealed as the conversation with a small group of Scottish golf writers turned to wine. “I’ve got my own company, Kerr Cellars, and we have two different brands and five different varietals. Everything is sourced from Napa and Sonoma.”
This trip, which will also take in next week’s Ricoh Women’s British Open at Kingsbarns, has allowed her to learn a bit about whisky as well. “We went to the Loch Lomond distillery on Monday,” she said. “It was amazing to learn about the whiskies. There’s just as many subtleties in whisky as there are in wine. They gave us their signature cask – a nine-year-old – and it was amazing.”
As would be Kerr making her ninth appearance for the US in next month’s Solheim Cup in Des Moines. “Definitely,” she replied in a flash to being asked if that event still gets her juices flowing. “We won it last time (at St Leon-Rot in Germany in 2015), but we still have to think of ourselves as the underdogs.”
In the easier afternoon conditions, 42-year-old Webb, winner of 41 LPGA titles and a three-time Women’s British Open champion, transformed her day with a run of five straight birdies from the 11th before edging into the outright lead with another gain at the last to come home in 30. “After three holes when it was really cold and windy, I saw Cristie’s score and said, ‘what course did she play today?’” she said. “I got really lucky with the weather as there was no rain this afternoon and the wind died down for the last five or six holes.”
Webb, whose last win was more than three years ago, didn’t need to hole anything longer than a 10-footer in that brilliant burst on the back nine. “I’ve played links golf for many years and enjoy it,” said the former world No 1, who was born in Ayr in Queensland. “My caddie, Johnny Scott, is also Scottish and we worked well together out there today, having played Troon earlier in the week.”
On a day when rounds were taking close to six hours near the finish, Stacy Lewis, winner of the 2013 British Women’s Open at St Andrews, opened with a 69 in one of the first groups. “It was super hard out there,” said the 32-year-old, who was particularly pleased with her 5-iron to two feet at the par-3 15th and a 3-wood to eight feet at the 16th in a run of three straight birdies from the 14th. Her effort was matched by Inbee Park, winner of the 2015 Women’s British Open at Turnberry, while world No 1 So Yeon Ryu and second-ranked Ariya Jutanugarn carded matching 71s. Lydia Ko had to settle for a 74.