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UGA champion Nuny Khamken treasures her time among LPGA legends

Exactly eight months after the most exhilarating moment of her golf career, Nuny Khamken patted her heart as a sign of relief Thursday morning. Having launched a drive down the middle of Copper Rock Golf Course’s No. 10 fairway, Khamken could have been forgiven for believing the toughest part of the day was behind her.

2023 Utah Senior Women’s State Amateur champ Nuny Khamken tees off during Wednesday’s LPGA Senior Championship Pro Am at Copper Rock. (Photo: Fairways Media/Randy Dodson)

Not so. The nerves she overcame on that first shot of the LPGA Senior Championship affected every aspect of her game other than driving. A rough start and a poor finish led to a 90 for the West Jordan resident, who had earned an exemption to Copper Rock by winning the Utah Senior Women’s State Amateur in September.

Juli Inkster is T2 (-2) 70 heading into Friday’s second round of the LPGA Senior Championship at Copper Rock GC. (Photo: Copper Rock/Curtis Puzey)

As of Thursday, when she warmed up on the driving range next to seven-time LPGA Tour major winner Juli Inkster, Khamken (who often uses her maiden name of Kham-One in the Utah Golf Association) found herself a long way from that title match vs. Roberta Scott at Wasatch Mountain GC. She was even further removed from her time as a cart attendant at Stonebridge GC in West Valley City, where she came to love golf.

Cristie Kerr shot 6-under 66 Thursday at Copper Rock GC to take the first round lead of the LPGA Senior Championship. (Photo: Copper Rock/Curtis Puzey)

Next to Inkster on the range was Cristie Kerr, whose 6-under-par 66 was good for a four-stroke lead over Inkster, Heather Bowie Young and defending champion Angela Stanford to begin the 54-hole event. The LPGA Senior Championship, open to golfers 45 and over, is one of two major tournaments for senior women, along with the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, and is the first major ever staged in Utah for any recognized tour.

Khamken’s opening-round 90 deserves some context. Her score was not the day’s highest, and half of the 73-player field shot 78 or worse. The other amateur, Florida’s Glenda Todd, posted an 89.

One more disclaimer: Has any elite golfer played nine holes, found every fairway and hit the greens on both par-3s, yet shot 46? That’s how Khamken started the day, while looking as good off the tee as LPGA veterans Tracy Hanson and Jackie Gallagher-Smith, the other players in her group. Approach shots, chipping and putting, especially, derailed her.

It’s just nerves,” she said. “I thought I was ready to start off, (but) it just got me.”

Even so, Khamken is thrilled to be in the field and eager to make a better showing over the last rounds, with no cut. “Wow, it’s amazing, first of all,” she said. “And hopefully, the nerves will go away (Friday), because these ladies are great. I just need to have fun.”

That happened on her second nine Thursday, when she made five straight pars on Copper Rock’s front side, even amid strong winds. “That felt really good,” said Khamken, whose husband, Pat, is caddying for her this week.

Her thoughts at the time: “OK, I got this. I can play this game.”

But then trouble struck on the par-4 No. 8, where her second shot failed to clear a second set of fairway bunkers, leading to a triple bogey. On No. 18, having missed only one fairway (and barely so) all day, she flared a drive into the lake on the right side and made a double bogey.

The ending was unfortunate, after Khamken came so close to salvaging a more respectable round. Just the same, for those memorable moments before the round, she was right next to the eventual Day 1 leaders. “It was the greatest feeling, to be inside the ropes with them, to be on the same putting green as them,” she said. “It’s amazing to see these wonderful ladies that you used to see on TV, and to play alongside them.”

Written by Fairways Media senior writer Kurt Kragthorpe. LPGA Senior Championship Leaderboard