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Published: Sunday, 8/10/2003

Better late than never for 2002 champion Teske

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The rule in golf when breaking a scoreboard tie to determine tournament pairings is first in, first out.

In last summer's Jamie Farr Kroger Classic it was last in, last out that applied to Rachel Teske.

Due to a traveling snafu, she was the last player to arrive on the day before the start of the tournament. Due to her performance, she was the last player to leave the grounds at Highland Meadows after the trophy presentation and the champion's press conference.

One aspect of that was a harried inconvenience. The other part was pretty enjoyable.

Teske, an Australian, had a meeting with immigration authorities in Florida last year on Tuesday of tournament week. She and her husband, Dean, were going through the final green card process to allow American residency.

To make a long story short - the meeting ran late, she missed her scheduled flight, she booked a later Tuesday flight, she arrived at the airport to learn her reservation had been lost and no seats were available, she spent $700 to book another flight Wednesday morning, then barely arrived at Highland Meadows in time for her pro-am starting time. Had she missed it, she would have been disqualified from the tournament.

Using that pro-am round as her only preparation for the Farr, Teske proceeded to card rounds of 67-73-64-66 for a 14-under-par 270 total and a two-shot victory over Beth Bauer. Karrie Webb finished in a tie for third at 11-under with Laura Diaz.

“If you're playing well and the swing is there, all you need to do is get a feel for the greens,” she said of her success despite getting in just one so-called practice round.

Last year marked the second time Teske had finished atop the leaderboard at the Farr Classic, although the ending wasn't quite as happy the first time around.

In 2000, Teske matched Annika Sorenstam's 10-under-par 274 finish, but lost in a sudden-death playoff.

Teske, 31, grew up in the Queensland region of Australia in the days before cable television made it the 60 miles or so inland from Brisbane.

“We were surrounded by the images of Greg Norman and Ian Baker-Finch and, of course, everybody knew of Peter Thomson,” she said. “But I had never seen a women's golf tournament on television. I didn't know much about the game.”

Around about her 14th birthday, however, Teske turned on the tube one day and caught a documentary about Jan Stephenson who, a decade or so earlier, had been the first Aussie to travel halfway across the world and make it big on the LPGA Tour.

“I saw that and thought it might be interesting to try the game,” Teske said.

She was hooked. Within eight years Teske had won just about every major amateur prize in Australia and New Zealand and was ready to turn professional.

“I still didn't know much about the American tour other than it was very good, and I wasn't sure I was good enough to play on it,” she said.

So Teske instead headed to Europe and became a winner there at the same time her fellow Aussie, Webb, became a smash sensation on the LPGA Tour with four wins, 15 top-10 finishes and earnings of more than $1 million as a rookie in 1996.

“We had played a lot of junior and amateur golf together, so what she did on the LPGA gave a lot of Aussie golfers momentum and gave me hope that I could do the same,” Teske said. “Karrie certainly lifted the bar for everybody.”

Teske came to the U.S. a year later and stepped onto a tour dominated by a pair of imports, Webb from Australia and Sorenstam from Sweden.

You might say everything has worked out.

Entering the 2003 season, Sorenstam had an 11-4 record in playoffs with two of the four losses coming at the hands of Teske, who played from 1997-2000 under her maiden name, Hetherington.

Then, last summer, Webb was co-leader with Bauer after three rounds. But it was Teske, who positioned herself just a stroke behind with a career-best 64 in the third round, who prevailed in Sunday's final round.

She added two more wins - in back-to-back tournaments - early in the 2003 campaign, bringing her LPGA career total to eight victories, and is one of the tour's hottest players as she returns to Highland Meadows to defend her Farr title.

And, to think, she almost didn't make it.

“I would have hated missing the tournament, and not just because I ended up winning,” Teske said. “Jamie Farr is always a lot of fun to be around and it's a wonderful tournament. I love the golf course.”



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