Ready to defend Hur title

M.J. Hur was surprised at how quickly things changed for her after winning last year’s Safeway Classic.

NORTH PLAINS, Ore. — M.J. Hur was surprised at how quickly things changed for her after winning last year’s Safeway Classic.

Just a few days later, at the Canadian Women’s Open, fans were congratulating the South Korean golfer and asking for her autograph. It simply didn’t occur to Hur that she was famous.

“Some in the gallery have my picture and say ‘Can I get an autograph?’ Already! Like after only one or two days!” she said.

It was Hur’s first win on the LPGA Tour, and only since. She beat Suzann Pettersen with a birdie on the second hole of a playoff at the tournament west of Portland. Michele Redman was eliminated on the first extra hole.

She remembers watching Pettersen and Redmen birdie the No. 17 hole, knowing the trio was headed for the playoff.

“I feel very nervous but in a different way, like very confident: ’I can hit this ball straight.’ Seemed like the same as practice,” she recalled.

This year’s Safeway Classic starts today at the 6,546-yard, par-72 Ghost Creek Course at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, about a 20 minute drive from Portland. It is the tournament’s second-year on the rural course at the base of the Coastal Range after 19 years at Columbia Edgewater County Club.

Cristie Kerr won in 2008 at Columbia Edgewater, beating Helen Alfredsson and Sophie Gustafson with a 15-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole.

Kerr, who won the State Farm Classic and LPGA Championship in June, just became the top-ranked player in the world while taking time off after the Women’s British Open. She didn’t even know about it until some friends emailed her.

Kerr, who was also ranked No. 1 earlier this year, wants to hold on to her status this time.

“There’s a lot of people contending for No. 1 in the world this year. And to be able to stay there I’ve just got to play well and every week just be consistent,” she said. “That’s my goal for the rest of the year.”

Others in the Safeway Classic field include Yani Tseng, who won her third major championship trophy two weeks ago at Royal Birkdale, and Michelle Wie, looking for her second victory after taking last year’s the Lorena Ochoa Invitational. Fan favourite Natalie Gulbis had to withdraw because of ongoing back trouble.

Red Deer’s Adrienne White will also be in the mix at the tournament this year.

Hur earned followers in Portland for her graciousness in victory last year. Long after her tournament-winning birdie — after addressing reporters, posing for pictures and shaking hands with sponsors — she returned to the 18th green and signed autographs for the lingering spectators.

Her best finish this season was a tie for second at the ShopRite LPGA Classic in New Jersey in June.

She says she’s more than ready to win again and has been practising for the past couple of weeks in Florida. The issue lately is fading in the later rounds, she explained.

“My goal this year is one more win, because I think after I have one more win I can get more and more, like every year,” she said.