Hur, Kerr Lead Way at LPGA

Former winners return to LPGA Safeway Classic

By Brian T. Smith, Columbian Sports Writer

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NORTH PLAINS, Ore. — M.J. Hur is eager to hold up and raise the Safeway Classic trophy again.

Hur, who won the 2009 LPGA tournament at Pumpkin Ridge, referred to her first professional title as a once-in-a-lifetime event. The South Korean gained prestige and added newfound confidence.

She was widely recognized by her national media, while family members spent months offering overwhelming congratulations. And as the accolades rained down, the then-LPGA rookie acknowledged that she began to feel like a star.

Follow-up tour events quickly polished the sudden shine surrounding Hur’s name. Volunteers went out of their way to congratulate her, and autograph seekers were soon holding out signature-ready pens at every stop.

“Definitely this tournament changed my life,” Hur said Thursday during a media interview. “I was, like, 70 on the money list before I (won).”

Hur finished 2009 in 31st place with $445,002 — $255,000 of which came from hoisting the Safeway trophy.

Now, Hur will join golfers such as Cristie Kerr, Yani Tseng and Suzann Pettersen during the race to claim the 2010 title and the largest portion of a $1.5 million purse.

The three-round, 54-hole event will run today through Sunday on the Ghost Creek Course at Pumpkin Ridge. This marks the 39th event in the tournament’s history, which is the longest running non-championship on the LPGA tour.

Hur spent the majority of her interview session detailing her 2009 triumph and the joys that followed. She shot a seven-under-par 65 during the final round to edge veterans Pettersen and Michele Redman, and it took a two-hole playoff before Hur could walk away smiling. A year later, she praised the course that helped provide instant fame. Hur said Pumpkin Ridge presents the premier playing surface on the tour, as fast, firm greens complement ideal fairways.

“It’s exactly the same as last year,” Hur said. “I love the condition.”

Kerr, who won the 2008 Safeway Classic in a sudden-death playoff, echoed that.

Kerr has fond memories of Ghost Creek and loves playing in the small-town suburb of Portland. And after recently taking over the top spot in the LPGA Rolex Rankings, Kerr is hoping to add another special moment to her 13-year career.

“This is a great time in women’s golf,” Kerr said. “There’s a lot of people contending for No. 1 in the world this year. And to be able to stay there, I’ve just got to play well every week; just be consistent. And that’s my goal for the rest of the year.”