LPGA legend Cristie Kerr, 44, turns back time to vault up Meijer leaderboard

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Belmont, Michigan — Cristie Kerr has played in every Meijer LPGA Classic, and she loves coming to Grand Rapids. But she hasn't seriously contended since the inaugural tournament in 2014, when she tied for ninth.

On Saturday morning, Kerr, 44, turned back time and carded a 7-under 65 to vault well up the leaderboard, from 55th place to start the day to inside the top 10 as the leaders were just teeing off on a glorious day at Blythefield Country Club just outside Grand Rapids. She ended the day tied for 14th, eight shots back of defending champion Nelly Korda.

Kerr, who's won 20 times on the LPGA including two majors, is looking for her first top 10 in an individual format tournament since 2020. She hasn't won since 2017.

Cristie Kerr climbed up the Meijer LPGA Classic leaderboard on Saturday with a 7-under 65.

"I just have always really loved this game," Kerr said. "Sometimes it breaks your heart, makes you mad, but I've always had a love for this game and a love to work at it. I think once I don't feel like working at it anymore, then I'll probably do something else.

"But, yeah, (the) game is getting younger, but the golf ball doesn't know the age. I've always said that. I've just got to work harder off the golf course to be able to compete."

Kerr credits a new PING driver with helping her this week. She hit 11 of 13 fairways in Saturday's round, leading to her hitting 17 of 18 greens.

She played her last five holes in Saturday's round in 4 under and will at least have a shot Sunday.

"You never know out here," Kerr said. "I've come back from eight shots back to win a tournament. You know, I might be a little too far back to do that, but (I'm) enjoying where my game is heading and I'm just going to keep working on that track."

Coming into this week's tournament, Kerr had made just two of six cuts this season, and is ranked 233rd in the world — this for a former world No. 2 who was No. 10 as recently as 2017. Last year wasn't great, either, aside from a tie for sixth at the two-person team tournament in Midland. She acknowledged Saturday that she struggled to find balance in her life, between motherhood, running a winery and golf.

During the early stages of the pandemic in 2020 when the LPGA was shut down, Kerr took on a bigger role in her wine business and figured she could continue doing that in 2021 while playing golf, but her game suffered. This year, she decided to step back a bit on the day-to-day operations of Kerr Cellars.

"Going into this year I said, if I want to have a comeback, if I want to try to do really, really well again, I can't do that," Kerr said. "I've got to focus all my energy on golf, on my fitness, which is starting to happen again."

Kerr also has a new caddie on the bag, Dave Lindquist, who's caddied on the PGA Tour. He's stepping in for Worth Blackwelder, who is dealing with some heart issues.

Kerr said the chemistry has been great with Lindquist. That, combined with the new driver and new devotion, has her back in the thick of things at the Meijer, where she's made the cut seven of eight times.

"It feels good," said Kerr, who won the Women's U.S. Open in 2007 and the Women's PGA Championship in 2010, and has played in nine Solheim Cups. "I felt like myself out there today for the first time in a couple years, maybe three, four years. I'm excited.

"I'm excited for…who knows how much longer I'm going to play.

"Just got to have maybe not (have) two or three jobs, maybe just one."

Sports sibs

Nelly Korda, 23, world No. 2 and last year's Meijer LPGA Classic champion, and sister Jessica Korda, 29, world No. 15, are among the cream of the crop on the LPGA.

But it's brother Sebastian Korda who went into the family business.

Sebastian, 21, is the 41st-ranked tennis player in the world. He reached a career-best 27th last month.

The Korda parents both were tennis stars, with father Petr a former Australian Open champion and French Open finalist, and mother Regina a former top-30 player. Sebastian has one ATP singles title, in 2021.

During her layoff earlier this year recovering from blood clot surgery, Nelly Korda was so bored staying with her parents that she decided to head to Miami to watch Sebastian play. He went 2-1 in his matches. Nelly watched one of his wins and his loss.

"I hope one day they're going to call me Sebastian Korda's big sister," Nelly said. "Usually, I was always Jessica Korda's little sister, and now I'm hoping to be Sebastian Korda's big sister, as well."

Nelly Korda will be looking Sunday for her eighth LPGA win. She'll start the day with a one-shot lead.

Chips & divots

►Also making a big move up the leaderboard early Saturday was Chella Choi, 31, of South Korea. She made the cut right on the number Friday after a 74, then followed that up with a 75.

"Yeah, the golf is very difficult," she said Saturday. "Yesterday after the round, I feel like, 'Oh, my God, I feel like no more golf, I don't want to play golf.' … It's complicated, golf.'"

She was tied for 18th, at 9 under.

►Spain's Carlota Ciganda shot a 7-under 65 in Friday's round, with the help of two eagles. She eagled the par-5 eighth and par-5 18th, reaching both with a 9 iron. For the day, she was 7 under on the par 5s.

►In Friday's second round, Gina Kim aced the 167-yard 13th hole, using a recently adjusted 5 iron.

►Lexi Thompson is looking to win for the first time since joining the Rocket Mortgage team last June. 

Meijer LPGA Classic

When: Through Sunday

Where: Blythefield Country Club, Belmont; par 72; 6,638 yards

TV: Golf Channel, 3-6 p.m.

Purse: $2.5 million (winner: $375,000)

Defending champion: Nelly Korda

Tickets: Starting at $10; details at meijerlpgaclassic.com

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tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984