Amateurs’ Yoo, Saint-Onge ready to tackle Sweetgrass

HARRIS – Kris Yoo will find out quickly what it takes to be a professional golfer.

The University of Wisconsin senior is one of two amateur exemptions in this weekend’s Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass, one of 15 stops on the Symetra Tour – Road to the LPGA. She is joined by third-year exemption Carley Saint-Onge of Marquette, a golfer at Michigan State University hoping to make her first cut at this tournament.

“I am really honored and excited to play, and I want to do my best,” Yoo said during a recent telephone interview following the conclusion of play in the Am Pub Links in Norman, Ok. She tied for 14th, winning two matches after shooting a sizzling 64 in a qualifying round.

Yoo, who played a couple of practice rounds at Sweetgrass earlier this month, has averaged 76.1 for her three years with the Badgers. This season she averaged 75.21 and helped the Badgers win the Hoosier Fall Invitational by finishing ninth. The native of Schaumburg, Ill. won two Class AA state titles in high school.

Asked if there may be an intimidation factor when she tees off Friday, she chuckled and said “I think so.” However, she is not worried about that because “I try to stay shot-by-shot, keep my focus, never get down and concentrate on my game.

“I think it will be the same feeling I’ve had at other tournaments. After the first shot, I think I’ll be okay.” She said the realization of playing in a pro tournament “will hit me a couple of hours before Sweetgrass.”

Her practice rounds at Sweetgrass have been helpful. “It is very placement oriented and I am pretty good at placing the ball,” she said, indicating she has always been accurate off the tee and is working on getting more distance.

She has also seen how wind can be a major factor on the links-style layout that has water on seven holes. After playing five rounds in windy Oklahoma last week, she said “I have definitely gotten better judging (wind) correctly and make the right (club) decisions. I don’t hit it super long. I hit it more straight.”

She said a key at Sweetgrass, which features huge, undulating greens, “is to be on the right side of the green and leave myself in a good position (to putt).”

Her father is her caddie for the tournament, which she said will be a great experience. “My goal is to have two solid rounds and make the cut,” she said.

Playing in the NCAA tournament with the Badgers last month and experiences in other tournaments should be beneficial this week. “I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve found more confidence in myself and I am less nervous,” she said. “I try to play my game and not worry about the other players.”

The field of 144 is strong and includes eight members of the top 10 money list. The top 10 winners on the Volvik Race for the Card get automatic exemptions to the LPGA Tour next year. Leading the way is money leader Sue Kim, who has six top 10 finishes in three seasons.

She will be joined at Sweetgrass by Cydney Clanton, who won the Four Winds Invitational last week in South Bend, Ind. and vaulted to second on the money list, along with No. 3 Jaclyn Sweeney, No. 4 Laura Kueny, No. 5 Melissa Eaton, No. 7 Marina Alex, No. 8 Marissa Steen and No. 9 Giuliana Molinaro.

Eaton, Kueny and Molinaro join Kim and Clanton as previous tournament winners this season who will be at Sweetgrass.

Pro-ams Wednesday and Thursday and youth clinics that took place Tuesday and Wednesday are highlights of the early week preparations. The speaker at tonight’s banquet is Peter Vanderkaay of Rochester, Mich., a three-time Olympic swimmer who has won two gold medals and two bronze medals. He has also taken 14 Big Ten titles and six NCAA titles in 200 and 400 freestyle races.

“He has been to the biggest show you can go to,” said tourney co-director Tony Mancilla. “He has progressively gotten better and has gone to the next level, which is where these players want to go. These players will see someone who has gotten to the very top and will see what it takes to do that.”

Vanderkaay will also conduct a swim clinic at the YMCA of Delta County Friday for area youngsters.