SOUTH BEND – After she came off the course Friday at Blackthorn Golf Club, Kristi O’Brien still didn’t believe that she had played here before. She didn’t have any recollection of the hilly terrain, sleek greens and deer that cross in front of players lining up shots.
Not only did she play here, says her father, Tom O’Brien, but she won the tournament, too. She was 17 and it was a junior event in the summer and sort of a big deal at the time because she beat out a player that had given her a lot of trouble.
Kristi, 24, can’t be blamed for not remembering the details of this 6,419-yard course, a stone’s throw from Notre Dame.
As a young professional – this is her second year pro, first on the Symetra Tour – life is filled with an abundance of tournaments, many of which she doesn’t know she’ll be have an invitation to until days beforehand.
Add to that her recent stint on the reality golf show, The Big Break, and it’s been a whirlwind of golf, travel, interviews, meeting new fans and pressure as she tries to realize her dream of making the LPGA Tour.
She didn’t get a spot at Blackthorn for the 54-hole Four Winds Invitational until last Sunday. And she still had a commitment Monday to take part in a charity Pro-Am in Angola at Glendarin Hills.
The good news is that the recent tournaments have been near her home of Fishers, where she lives with her husband and caddy, Ben Moster, a terrific golfer himself.
It’s nice to be in the Midwest and to have family and friends around me, says Kristi, who grew up in Fort Wayne and starred at Bishop Luers. It really helps having that around and having that feeling of comfort with my surroundings.
Coming into this tournament, Kristi had played in five events on the Symetra Tour, which is one step below the LPGA. She had made the cut in two, tying for 53rd at the Firekeepers Casino Hotel Championship in Battle Creek, Michigan, on June 9.
In Friday’s first round at Blackthorn, she had a cheering section of about 20 people and shot a 1-over 73, putting her in a tie for 67th place.
It was nice to have so many people I know and nice to have people I was even meeting for the first time, Kristi says.
I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, so I need to get more confidence back for tomorrow.
While she would have made the cut with another 73 on Saturday, her putter foiled her again and she posted a 77, putting her in a tie for 107th at 6 over, four strokes from the cut line. Lee Lopez of Whittier, California, has the lead at 9 under after a 68 on Saturday. The event’s purse is $150,000, one of the largest on tour.
It was a very rough day and I’m not excited about it. It was putting and getting up and down. I was just horrible today, says Kristi, who is one of the least experienced players on the Symetra Tour.
Her cheering section Saturday had thinned to just a couple of people, including her father, who still coaches golf at Luers.
I’m not nervous, he says from his usual spot, about 70 yards away from where Kristi is hitting. I’m into every shot. I never miss a shot when I’m on the course with her. It’s exciting, the fact that she’s a pro, I’m really glad she’s doing it. I really believe she’ll make it. The LPGA Tour is the last step. Her work ethic is legendary. It wasn’t in high school, but it is now.
So what changed? Two things: the car accident in 2009 that could have taken her life and her marriage to Moster, who understands the intricacies of a good golf swing and how to motivate Kristi.
As for the accident, it took place near Anderson and her car rolled three times. She was forced to crawl out through a windshield while fearing the car would explode, and she was left with an injured back and leg. Her golf clubs didn’t have a scratch on them – something she saw as a sign – and that story was a topic of discussion on The Golf Channel’s The Big Break, from which she was eliminated in the eighth episode.
After the accident, I just decided to give it my all and work as hard as I can, says Kristi, who holds the IUPUI team record for most rounds played, won the Fort Wayne Women’s Golf Association’s City Tournament in 2011 and won the Indiana Amateur the same year.
Because of the accident, I had to work through getting back to where I was (as a golfer). It really helped me get better. I had to work for it and I realized I needed to give it my all.
Throughout Saturday’s round, Kristi was befuddled by her short game – she had 33 putts and hit only 10 greens in regulation – and Moster, an accountant who was an IUPUI golfer, too, was there to keep her settled throughout it all.
He’s an incredible golfer. He shot a 64 at Glendarin for the course record – and it was the first time he’d seen the course, Tom O’Brien says.
Kristi says that she and her husband both had dreams of being professional golfers and they’re channeling that into her game right now. Fortunately, because she is sponsored by Fort Wayne’s Brigadoon Fitness and Bruce Dye, the man behind Fort Wayne’s Hotel Fitness Championship on the Web.com Tour, she doesn’t have to worry too much about how much she earns on the Symetra Tour.
It helps me to be out here stress-free, says Kristi, who has earned only $629 this year. At this level, it’s so much about gaining experience. You try to win money every week but we’re not making that much out here anyway. You just want to finish as well as you can, so you can get to the LPGA, where we can make money.
I’m learning a lot. Today was a day when I was a lot more aggressive, trying to not just make the cut, like I have the last couple of times. I learned that’s not the way to go about it. I need to just play my game and let it happen. I was too forceful today.