Kingsmill attendance expected to top 60K for first time in 2 years

Contact Reporterkholtzman@vagazette.com

If the dry weather holds up, LPGA Kingsmill Championship attendance should exceed 60,000 for the first time since 2014, according to tournament director Matthew Schulze.

Schulze said Thursday attendance could even rise beyond 65,000. The last two years it has hovered around 55,000 because of storms and rain.

"The thing I kept hearing from people was there was a lot more people here on Thursday than we've seen in a long time," Schulz said, "but we haven't had a good stretch of weather for four days in a long time."

Scattered showers are in the forecast for Saturday with temperatures expected to drop about 15 degrees after sun scorched the field Thursday and Friday, but wind picking up by 12 mph. The showers are forecast to taper off by 2 p.m., giving the Kingsmill organizers plenty of wiggle room for potential delays ahead of the Golf Channel's live broadcasts Saturday and Sunday from 5-7 p.m.

Only a slight chance of showers is in the cards for Sunday with the wind back down to 7-9 mph.

Fast and firm

Schulze said the word on tour is Kingsmill's greens are as good as anyone has ever seen.

Good means the right balance between firm, fast and fair.

"We like to see the golf course win," Schulze said. "The tour kind of wants to see the players win and be entertaining. It's not the U.S. Open; we don't want them to shoot 1 over. We want to see a lot of birdies and eagles and people having fun watching golf. But we want it to be a good test."

American Amelia Lewis got a good feel for how much firmer the greens are this year on her final hole, 18, when she struck a good approach shot within several feet of the hole that still pinged away to the fringe before the Jacksonville, Florida, native chipped and saved par with a 10-foot putt to card a 68.

"Normally they have a lot of rain and you can just stick your shots," Lewis said, "but now you really have to play for some release and roll. And the greens are firmer and faster."

The most intriguing challenge could come on "moving day" Saturday on 18 (382 yards), when the hole may be converted to a driveable par-4, a first for the LPGA at Kingsmill. Schulze said that was the plan last year before rain dampened the idea.

India's lone flag-bearer

A segment of Aditi Ashok's Twitter bio reads simply "Olympian."

Enough characters in that social media space do not nearly exist to capture the national pride that Ashok helped spur during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

"It was really big," Ashok said Thursday after carding a 1-under-par 70 that had her tied for 34th. "I figured that out when I got there. It was something I've never experienced. It was one of the best weeks of my career so far, to get to represent India, and hopefully I can do that again in Tokyo."

At 18, Ashok was the youngest golfer in the Olympics, which welcomed golf back for the first time since 1904.

The Bangolore native hopes to become the first Indian player to win an LPGA Tour event and is the only player from the nation of more than 1.3 billion in the Kingsmill field. She was profiled by the New York Times in February and now boasts nearly 19,000 Twitter followers. For some perspective, the other two members of her group — England's Bronte Law and University of Virginia alumna Brittany Altomare — have 2,301 combined.

Ashok's global ranking of 102 is the highest for an Indian woman since Simi Mehra, who reached as high as 17 in the late 1990s.

"It's good to be one of the only few," Ashok said. "Hopefully there will be a lot more girls from India picking up golf and hopefully playing on the LPGA. With every performance, I hope I can just inspire more girls back home."

In Rio, Ashok finished 41st, only months after turning professional, and followed up the Olympics performance in the fall with a pair of Ladies European Tour wins, finishing with seven top-10s to earn top rookie honors.

Unfortunately for Ashok, the final two holes Thursday carried into Friday, when she shot 77 to send her tumbling down the leaderboard.

Her first-time LPGA caddy, Mikey Curry, said Ashok is unflappable. So she is likely to quickly put Friday's slip in the rearview mirror.

"I'm still a rookie and just 19, trying to do better than most other rookies out here," Aditi Ashok said. "I'm just trying to do my best each week. Eventually if I do well, my country also gets the credit."

Craft beer trail

Schulze said the tournament phones have been ringing off the hook about the new beer trail this year, stocked with multiple options from six regional breweries on certain holes throughout the course.

Beer gardens at sporting events have trended the last several years and Schulze said the new option is intended to attract younger people to the championship and to get fans to venture deeper into the course.

"We'll see how it works," Schulz said. "The first year is a little bit of an experiment. But so far, so good. It's great to have some of the really local breweries be part of it."

Upon completion of all 10 tastings, samplers can return their completed cards into Fan Information at the main entrance or behind the clubhouse for a chance to win a brewery tour at one of the participating breweries.

The trail:

"19th hole:" Devils Backbone (Roseland)

17th hole: Sweetwater (Atlanta)

11th hole: Port City (Alexandria)

Main entrance: Alewerks (Williamsburg)

4th hole: Heavy Seas (Maryland)

1st hole: Smartmouth Murphy's (Norfolk)

Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.

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