Kuehne's play matching words

Overconfident as rookie, her talent is coming out

U.S. Women's Open notebook

June 04, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

WEST POINT, Miss. -- Kelli Kuehne came out of the University of Texas during the middle of her sophomore year with a big reputation, having won two U.S. Women's amateurs and an NCAA individual championship. She also had a big contract, having signed with Nike and Top-Flite.

What didn't endear her to those on the LPGA Tour was a big mouth, having told her fellow pros that she was going to win right away. It didn't happen. In fact, Kuehne missed the cut at her first seven events.

"Last year was a difficult year," Kuehne, now 22, realled yesterday. "It wasn't a fun year. It was a year of growing pains for me. Why the jump was so difficult I don't know. You get frustrated when you struggle like that."

The struggle appears to be coming to an end for Kuehne. Two weeks after her first top 10 finish as a pro, one week after her first victory, Kuehne shot an 8-under-par 64 in the opening round of the 54th U.S. Women's Open here at the Old Waverly Golf Club.

Kuehne's round, which included five birdies on the front nine and three on the back, was one shot off the single-round Open record set by Helen Alfredsson, who shot an opening-round 63 at Indianwood in 1994. It matched Alfredsson's record of 8-under par.

"I was very confident coming into Corning [N.Y.] after the way I played in Austin [Texas], and I was very confident coming in here after the way I played at Corning," said Kuehne.

Kuehne attributes her turnaround this season to a number of factors. She took a month off after qualifying school last fall to work with longtime teacher Hank Haney. She brought her short-game coach, Tracy Phillips, on tour with her this year as a caddie.

And she stopped taking two to three insulin shots for her diabetes last fall, using an insulin pump that she can regulate while she is on the course. She said she cut her normal dosage by more than half during yesterday's round, which was twice interrupted by weather delays.

"I've been a diabetic for 12 1/2 years. Some people say it's a burden, but I don't look at it that way," Kuehne said earlier this week. "It's taught me about discipline. It's taught me about commitment."

Last year's struggle taught Kuehne not to pay attention to what people said about her. But yesterday's round, and her recent results, might have taught her detractors something, too.

Kuehne is for real.

Big moments in 78

There were a dozen sleepy-eyed spectators in the bleachers, a couple of guys from a local Air Force base in the gallery and a bronzed pig on the first tee when Susan Slaughter heard her name announced early yesterday morning as the last player in the opening threesome.

It was the first tournament for the former NCAA champion in eight years, since missing the cut at the 1991 Open.

Despite playing the first five holes in 4-over par, which included the first of two double bogeys, a couple of shots by Slaughter coming down the stretch gave the assistant pro at Woodholme Country Club some much-needed confidence. They helped her maintain some respectability, and hope, in a round of 6-over 78.

"It's not bad for someone who teaches every day," said Slaughter.

Slaughter holed out from 80 yards for an eagle on the par-5 15th hole and, after her second double bogey at the par-3 17th, sank a 20-foot birdie putt from just off the 18th green.

After watching her once promising career sidetracked by a series of car accidents, Slaughter's return trip to the Open was nearly sabotaged by a case of vertigo. After a trip to the emergency room and a couple of tough days adjusting to medication, Slaughter's problem cleared up last week.

"It was a struggle today, but that's golf," she said.

Pub Date: 6/04/99

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