Kristy McPherson shot a pair of 3-under-par 68s on the weekend at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic on June 23-24 in Ontario, Canada, and from there headed to her favorite course on the LPGA Tour.
Entering last week’s $2 million Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, she had three top-five finishes in five appearances at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Ark., had never finished outside the top 40 there and was a combined 27-under par in 13 rounds.
She was primed to string some good rounds together. But a 2-over 144 through 36 holes last week left McPherson on the wrong side of the cut line – again.
Following four consecutive top-30 finishes to begin 2012, one of the tour’s more consistent players over the past five years has struggled to gain any momentum this season, missing seven of her last eight cuts.
“It’s been very frustrating,” McPherson said. “I actually started off the year pretty solid. I felt like it was close and I just wasn’t getting everything out of my rounds. … I was looking forward to good things and all of a sudden it went backwards.”
Despite the struggles, the Conway native believes her game is rounding into form for the $3.2 million U.S. Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wis.
A tie for 31st in Canada ended a string of six consecutive missed cuts, and last week’s missed cut was by a single shot after McPherson was well off the cut line in the six previous events in which she failed to qualify for a final round.
“I feel I’m doing some things better in my game,” McPherson said. “I hope this will be the week I get it all together. It’s not as bad as the scores and the [missed cuts] multiple weeks might indicate, but sometimes in this game the harder you try you go backwards.”
Missing cuts is not something McPherson is all that familiar with. She never missed a cut in 60 tournaments on the feeder Symetra LPGA Futures Tour, and missed as many as three consecutive cuts just once in her first five years on the LPGA Tour.
“I’m not familiar with it and I don’t like it one bit. It’s definitely not fun,” McPherson said. “It plays games with your head. … Lately my confidence has been hurt. It’s been a little bit physical, but a lot of it is my confidence.”
In missing six straight cuts this year, her best score was a 6-over 150, and she shot a 14-over 79-79–158 to begin the streak in the March 22-25 Kia Classic at La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, Calif.
“I fell into the whole thing of just trying to make the cut, and you end up playing defensive and make mistakes, and the more mistakes you make you put more pressure on yourself,” McPherson said. “A lot of the problem is confidence, and trying to get back to trying to win golf tournaments rather than trying to make a cut. … It’s easy to get into that rut.”
McPherson, who in 2009 finished 16th on the LPGA money list and played on the victorious U.S. Solheim Cup Team, has fallen to 143rd in the Rolex world rankings and 73rd on the money list with $57,508 earned in 12 events.
Injuries are contributing to McPherson’s struggles.
She will always be challenged physically by juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, which she has had since the age of 11, and she has played through mild right hip pain for several years. Her game has been particularly hampered this year by left elbow pain.
She had surgery to repair a chipped bone and tennis elbow in December 2010, and “it has not been right since then,” said McPherson. “You kind of need a left elbow for a golf swing. That’s part of where my swing kind of got off plane. I was picking everything up with my right hand and guarding against that left elbow.”
An MRI on the elbow is scheduled next week. “It’s been worse since I had surgery,” McPherson said. “It may be scar tissue or arthritis. Hopefully it’s not anything that will require another surgery. I just want to get some relief and some consistency so I can play three days in a row and not have any elbow pain.”
McPherson, 31, has seldom sought instruction as a pro, and has worked a few times over the past couple years with swing coach Mike Wright of Shady Oaks Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, who is her friend Angela Stanford’s teacher. McPherson spent time with him on the range at Blackwolf Run early this week. “I just want to get back to a simple swing like I had in ’08 and ’09,” she said.
McPherson has 14 tournaments remaining this year to improve her standing on tour.
She bettered her place on the money list in each of her first three years on tour, peaking in 2009 when she finished 16th with more than $800,000 earned and had a career-best 71.25 scoring average. She finished 27th on the money list in 2010 and fell to 56th last year with $157,000 earned.
The top 80 players in 2012 earnings retain full LPGA exempt status in 2013, and positions 81-125 retain partial status. The greedy number for McPherson is top 60, which would qualify her for early-season events in Australia, Thailand and Singapore.
“That’s really the number you want to get to in order to get into the limited field events to get a head start on the money list and early start to the season,” McPherson said.
McPherson knows what it’s like to be left out of key tournaments. She was the first alternate for a couple weeks for the $1.5 million Sybase Match Play Championship in May, and no one withdrew. McPherson believes she qualified for the tournament, however, and filed an appeal to the tour but it was denied.
McPherson said the top 48 from last year’s money list qualified, and the next 12 players on the money list through the April 26-29 Mobile Bay LPGA Classic who weren’t already in the tournament also got in. She believes she met that qualification – which was one of many – but Jennifer Johnson was awarded the final spot.
“That was frustrating because in match play, especially when you’re struggling, you can free it up,” McPherson said. “I was looking forward to match play and playing with a different mentality. The worst that can happen is you lose a match. It was disappointing to get the boot on that one.”
McPherson has played some of her best golf in majors. She believes her game suits tougher conditions and hopes the Open will provide a bit of an elixir. She recorded three top-seven finishes in 2009 majors, including a tie for second in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, and has made two of three cuts in her U.S. Women’s Open career, tying for 19th in 2010.
“Some of my best tournaments out here have been majors,” McPherson said. “The tougher the better.”
Blackwolf Run will certainly be difficult. The course last hosted the U.S. Open in 1998, when Se Ri Pak won in a playoff after shooting 6-over, which matches the highest winning score in the tournament since 1976.
The layout is more than 500 yards longer than it was in 1998 and now measure 6,984 yards, though the par has been changed from 71 to 72 and the layout is projected to play a bit firmer and faster.
McPherson played the vaunted course for the first time four weeks ago following the Wegman’s LPGA Championship. “A lot of times you can talk yourself into getting scared of a U.S. Open golf course, so it was nice to get up here early to free it up and see it without it freaking you out,” McPherson said. “It’s a good golf course. I like it a lot. It has big fairways, big greens and a lot of undulations in the greens. It’s a tough golf course that makes you think, but it’s one that I like.”
McPherson would like to reach the weekend and get back to the consistency that has her about $64,000 from reaching $2 million in career LPGA Tour earnings.