Blackwelder ‘fits in’ with the pros at LPGA’s first major of the year

By Laura Pepper

When UK junior golfer Mallory Blackwelder headed to Rancho Mirage, Calif., in early March to compete in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the LPGA Tour’s first major tournament of the year, she hoped to gain some professional experience and knowledge from the pros and to make the weekend cut.

But after posting a first-day score of 71, just four shots off the lead, Blackwelder was out for much more.

“I went out and was doing really good, and I felt that the course set up good for me,” Blackwelder said of her first-day performance. “I felt good about my game after I played, and I didn’t see any reason why I would not be as successful as (some of the game’s biggest names).”

Blackwelder faded off during the second day of the tournament by posting a 76, but she was one of only three amateurs to make the cut and play all four days of the tournament. She finished in a tie for 68th place with a score of 302, 14-over-par.

The big scene wasn’t an unfamiliar one for Blackwelder — her mother and current UK head coach Myra Blackwelder is a former LPGA player — but the tournament was the first time Blackwelder could be recognized on a major scale for her individual abilities.

“Once I got in there, there were so many people that I have known since I was little, and they made me feel welcome,” Blackwelder said. “I felt like I fit. It was a perfect environment for me.”

Even though the leaders got away from Blackwelder on the second day of the tournament, she was still in position to record the low score for the amateurs. A triple bogey on the final hole of the tournament dashed those hopes, but the tournament was still a huge success for Blackwelder.

“People now know that there is no reason to think that I can’t play out there,” Blackwelder said. “I’m not satisfied with my college career, but if I can make the cut (at an LPGA major), then I can play with the college girls.

“I haven’t had a stellar college career,” she said. “I’m glad that I proved that I can (play at the LPGA level).”

Blackwelder said her experience was one she’ll never forget, especially for two particular encounters she had with two of the game’s biggest names. She said her most memorable moments were hitting balls with multi-major winner Annika Sorenstam on the range and a compliment from the eventual winner, Lorena Ochoa.

After playing with the world’s best, Blackwelder acknowledged it might be a little tough at first to return playing at the college level because of the different style of play, but said she plans to finish her degree in marketing before turning pro.

“I proved that I will belong out here and that I can play at this level after I graduate from college,” Blackwelder said.