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Wie West returns to LPGA at KIA Classic

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She finally admitted what those of us who were there suspected all along. When Michelle Wie West walked onto the patio at Hazeltine National on Friday of the 2019 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, you could see it in her teary eyes and hear it in her cracking voice. 

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She was done. 

The wrist injury, one of the many that beset the former U.S. Women’s Open champion, seemed like a last straw. She had played with more tape than a Final Four basketball team, worn more braces than an offensive lineman, and adjusted her swing more times to accommodate her body than anyone could count only to endure one frustration after another. She didn’t say at the time or in the almost two years after. But when she walked toward her courtesy car on that sunny Minneapolis afternoon, everyone thought it was the last time they would see Michelle in competition.  

On Wednesday at Aviara, a day before the opening round of the Kia Classic, Wie West admitted as much.  

“I thought I was done, to be honest,” Wie West said. “After KPMG in 2019 I thought I was done, especially when I found out I was pregnant later that year. I thought that cemented it. I thought there was no chance of coming back. And I told my husband that. He was like, ‘No, no, just think it through.’” 

Wie West’s husband is Jonnie West, the director of basketball operations for the Golden State Warriors and son of legendary NBA star Jerry West. It’s ironic that Michelle’s father-in-law is the model for the NBA logo since most people assume Michelle’s statuesque finish was the inspiration behind the LPGA logo. They are a star-studded family of down-to-earth people, the kind you would feel just as good about having over to your house for dinner as you would having them sit beside you courtside during a playoff game.  

Wie West is back inside the ropes now, not despite her pregnancy, but because of it. 

“We found out that Makenna was going to be a girl and that just changed my perspective on everything,” Wie West said. “It was crazy how just that one little fact changed everything. 

“That’s when I started to think, ‘You know, I kind of want to (play again). I want to show (my daughter) in real time that I can, that I play golf. It's one thing to have her watch YouTube videos. It's another thing to have her watch me with her own eyes. Seeing me go out there, work at it hard, and try to lead by example. 

“That moment that Tiger had with Charlie (in the PNC Championship), that is the first thing that popped into my mind. That's been a huge motivation and that's been a new dream of mine.”

To read the full story from Steve Eubanks on LPGA.com, visit:
https://www.lpga.com/news/2021/michelle-wie-west-returns-to-competition

NASA HATAOKA READY FOR THOSE AVIARA HILLS
Two years later and Nasa Hataoka finally has a chance to defend her 2019 Kia Classic title. The Japanese phenom captured her third career LPGA Tour title with a three-stroke win at Aviara Golf Club. With the 2020 tournament cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Hataoka is extra pleased to take to the course this year.

“I’ve been looking forward to coming back here,” said Hataoka. “It's a lot of memories here for me. It's quite a lot, but I'm very happy.”

Among those great memories are the many hills that traverse the Aviara layout. Hataoka, famous for the small bounce onto her toes that she takes before each shot, laughed when asked if this week requires more physical fitness than the average tournament.

“I think this course causes me to be breathing rough and tough when I'm at the tee,” said Hataoka, who tees off Thursday at 8:06 a.m. PT with Lexi Thompson and Ally Ewing. “So I think a lot of training really works out.”

COMING OFF SECOND WIN IN SEVEN MONTHS, AUSTIN ERNST IS UP FOR THE CHALLENGE AGAIN
Most recent LPGA Tour champion Austin Ernst earned her third career title earlier this month at the Drive On Championship presented by Volvik at Golden Ocala. Even with two victories over the last seven months, she knows just how difficult it is to find the winner’s circle.

“I think the Tour is as deep as it has ever been,” said Ernst. “We get better players coming in, whether it is young players or international players. It seems like the fields get deeper each week and it gets harder to win every year.

“I feel like I have gotten better every year that I’ve been on Tour and I had a six-year hiatus [from the winner’s circle] from 2014 to 2020. I think it’s harder than ever to win. But it really solidifies, when you can do it, just how well you’re playing.”

She also knows what it takes to put together a championship week, both in come-from-behind fashion like her final-round 8-under 63 to win the 2020 Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G, and through sheer dominance, demonstrated by a five-stroke victory three weeks ago in central Florida.

“Golf is weird because you win once [in] a year and you’ve had a great year, so it’s different than other sports, but I think my mindset that week [at Golden Ocala] was something that I can try to replicate every week,” Ernst said. “The game might not always be there, but I think if I can be that sharp mentally it will definitely help. You can't expect to go win by five every week but it's a good goal to have. If I could be in that spot that I was in every week, then I would find myself in contention a little more often.”

With the two weeks off before the start of the West Coast Swing at the Kia Classic, Ernst was able to celebrate her win with friends in Florida and family in Virginia. She called herself and fiancée Jason Dods “young snowbirds,” since they split time between Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. and Richmond, Va., where Jason’s parents live, on weeks off.

Ernst will look for a second consecutive title in as many LPGA starts this week at Aviara Golf Club. She opens play tomorrow at 12:55 p.m. PT off No. 1 tee with Inbee Park and Danielle Kang.

MO MARTIN CONTINUES HER #DRIVEON JOURNEY AT THE KIA CLASSIC
Major champion Mo Martin seemingly always has a smile on her face, and that smile becomes a full-on grin whenever she steps foot onto Aviara Golf Club. The 2014 AIG Women’s Open winner grew up in suburban Los Angeles and loves it any time she gets to cruise down the 5 to Carlsbad.

“I love southern California for so many reasons and I love this golf course. It's one of my favorites. Definitely all season, all of my career, really love playing here. I think my second year here I finished in a tie for second,” said Martin. “I've just had good vibes, even from the volunteers to all my fans and family that have come down. It's just been special. I felt a lot of support and just felt like it's home.”

Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions, Martin’s family can’t join her on site this week. She even joked that she asked security that “if they see my mom in the bushes trying to sneak through, don't tackle her too hard. Just gently bring her away.” But she’ll keep the memory of those Go Mo buttons close to heart.

This week also marks just Martin’s fourth LPGA Tour event since the 2019 ANA Inspiration, battling with a back injury that left her sidelined for months. Martin has long been a fighter, telling her #DriveOn “Never Quit” story of childhood golf instruction from her dad and a book, limited financial means and even more limited opportunities. That Drive On spirit helped Martin push through the last two difficult years, knowing that she was made it through tough times to earn that first title at Royal Birkdale and knowing that this game has brought so much goodness into her life.

“I fell in love with golf really from day one, and through junior golf somebody anonymously started paying my entry fees and helped me for a couple years,” said Martin, who walked on at UCLA and ended up with a four-year collegiate career. “Through this piece and reaching out to a few people I was able to find that person to thank them and promise them that I'm going to continue to do the same thing – to look out for the kids who may be lost in the cracks to come and just to hopefully have everybody that wants to be a part of golf be a part of golf and let that magic happen, too.”

Martin will start her 2021 LPGA Tour season at 7:33 a.m. PT off No. 10 tee, playing alongside Escondido native Haley Moore and University of Southern California alumna Jennifer Chang.

BY THE NUMBERS—KIA CLASSIC
The following statistics were compiled by Amy Mills, Senior Manager of Statistical Research for the LPGA.

Inbee Park has recorded four top-six finishes including two runner-up performances (2016, 2019) in her last seven Kia Classic starts. Park is a combined 72-under par at Aviara Golf Club since 2013, which is eleven strokes better than any other player during this time.
 

Best Cumulative Score to Par

Kia Classic since 2013

Inbee Park

-72

Cristie Kerr

-61

Lydia Ko

-49

Lizette Salas

-46

Published : March 25, 2021