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Nancy Lopez refers to herself as a good mudder.
That's nice. But can she row a boat?
Highland Meadows Golf Club took a major hit from Mother Nature as nearly three inches of rain fell in a 24-hour period ending mid-afternoon yesterday, leaving some fairways and greens under standing water.
It meant the cancellation of a pro-am event for the first time in the 22-year history of the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic presented by Kroger.
Plus, today's opening round of the LPGA Tour event promises to be played under soft, slow conditions.
And that's with the best efforts of course superintendent Mark Mixdorf and his 20-person crew.
A couple hours after the last storm cell moved through yesterday, Mixdorf and Co. got cracking and worked into the wee hours this morning to get the course playable for defending champion Heather Young, Hall of Famer Lopez, No. 1-ranked Annika Sorenstam and a field of 141 others.
"There wasn't anything we
could really do until about two hours after the rain finally stopped," Mixdorf said. "The course drains really well and we had to wait and let it do its own thing to start the draining process. We had to wait until the drain tiles started clearing before we could begin pushing more water into them by pumping bunkers and getting squeegees out on the fairways."
Mixdorf said his main concern was bunker repair - draining them, re-distributing the sand and repairing any washouts.
Robert O. Smith, the LPGA's rules official, said he was anticipating no change in starting times for today's first round, although "we won't know for sure until we see course conditions early in the morning."
If Mixdorf's crew is unable to mow before the start of first-round play, scheduled for 7:30 a.m. off both the Nos. 1 and 10 tees, it is possible the LPGA would allow lift-clean-place rules to be in effect.
So while the grounds crew worked overtime, most of the LPGA players took the day off with the pro-am canceled, rain falling in sheets and the practice facilities too sloppy to use.
"I didn't wish for rain, and it's unfortunate for the [pro-am] sponsors and players, but getting a day off isn't the end of the world for me," Sorenstam said. "It has been a long two weeks."
Sorenstam began that stretch with an 18-hole playoff win over Pat Hurst at the U.S. Women's Open and then played four rounds in the Women's World Match Play before losing to Juli Inkster, another Farr competitor, in the quarterfinals.
"A win like the Open gives you a lot of energy, but I have to admit I am a little tired," Sorenstam, the 2000 Farr champion, said. "But I'm looking forward to playing. It is a place I have won, so I have good memories and always feel like the course fits me well."
Sorenstam is part of a star-studded pairing that will leave the 10th tee this morning at 8:40. She will be joined by four-time Farr champion Se Ri Pak and young LPGA star Paula Creamer.
"It's fun to have good pairings like that," Sorenstam said. "Se Ri is a class act and she has a jump in her step since winning [the LPGA Championship] that we haven't seen for a while. Paula is part of the new generation of players coming up that have brought a lot to the tour. So hopefully the weather is better and we have a big crowd and a fun day."
Inkster, a 31-time tour champion, will headline the next threesome to leave the 10th tee at 8:50 a.m., joining Christina Kim and Liselotte Neumann.
Lopez follows at 9 a.m. in a grouping that includes Meg Mallon and Laura Davies, both former Farr champs. The three veterans have accounted for 86 victories, including 11 major championships.
Lopez is playing in an LPGA Tour event for the first time in more than a year. She did appear recently in a couple senior and past-champion events and hit enough good shots to get the competitive juices flowing. Toledo had always been among her favorite tour stops while an active player - she finished second four times in the Farr - and she figured it was the perfect place for a surprise return to action.
"I decided to come to the Jamie Farr because I figured the crowds would be a little easier on me if I didn't play real well," Lopez said, chuckling.
She credited Sorenstam and some of the tour's young guns with inspiring her to return to competition.
"I saw Annika playing the type of golf that I remembered playing back in my early years," Lopez said. "I watched a lot of the new players. It inspired me to say, 'I wonder if I can get back out there and play.'●"
She had to speak loudly to be heard over the roar of rain crashing against the roof of the media tent at Highland Meadows.
"Wow," Lopez said, looking up. "I hate that it's raining for the pro-am players and the fans, but all it means to me is that the course will play a little longer. That's OK. One thing I can still do is focus. Plus, I'm a mudder. I love it. I've always played pretty well in tough conditions."
Young, the defending champion, was disappointed yesterday's pro-am was canceled because it deprived her of the opportunity to play with tourney host Jamie Farr.
"Still, it has been an exciting week," she said. "It's the first time I've defended. But I know that past success doesn't guarantee future success. I've been playing consistently, but I'm probably not playing as well coming in as I was last year."
Young lost to Sorenstam in the second round of last week's match play championship.
"I think she hit 15 of 16 greens in that round," Young said. "She doesn't make any mistakes. If she doesn't win this week, whoever is the champion will know they beat a great player and a great field."
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