Reilly overcame broken back for tour spot

Saturday, September 11th 2004, 6:02 pm
By: News On 6

BROKEN ARROW, Okla. (AP) _ Doctors weren't sure Reilley Rankin would walk again. She couldn't even lift her empty hands above her head.

The LPGA tour rookie broke her back in three places in June 1999 jumping off a cliff into a lake and needed two years of rehabilitation to get back to golf.

Now, Rankin is positioned for her best finish yet on the LPGA tour. The 25-year-old shot a 4-under 67 Friday for fourth place after one round of the John Q. Hammons Hotel Classic.

Christina Kim shot a 6-under 65 for a one-stroke lead over Annika Sorenstam and Shi Hyun Ahn in the 54-hole, $1 million tournament at Cedar Ridge Country Club.

The injury and rehab have made Rankin calmer and wiser, and she thoughtfully considers each question before giving a Zen answer full of seeming oxymorons.

``I just trusted my game plan and stuck to it the whole day,'' Rankin said. ``You just really have to stay focused for 54 holes, so I really just focused on staying focused.''

``We wanted to be in the fairways and on the green, just playing smart,'' said Rankin, wearing a white Boston Red Sox hat. ``Conservative aggressive.''

Rankin didn't pick up a golf club for 15 months after breaking her back June 4, 1999, and even then she could only swing it in a pool.

Still, she was a key player on the Georgia Bulldogs 2001 NCAA championship team and joined the LPGA tour after finishing 5th on the Futures Tour money list last year.

``It definitely taught me a lot of risk and reward,'' said Rankin, who now lives in Hilton Head, S.C. ``I never get upset on the golf course. Pressure is a word and you can use it anyway you want.''

So calm is Rankin that she didn't quiver when paired Friday with Sorenstam, a winner of 52 tournaments and six majors.

Rankin, whose best finish was 8th at the LPGA Takefuji Classic in April and has missed seven cuts this year, birdied four of the first five holes with her hero watching close by.

``When I saw the pairings a couple of days ago I could have jumped through the roof,'' Rankin said. ``It's an opportunity to learn a lot. I think it helped me because it made me stay focused on my own game.''

Sorenstam, who has started only 13 of 24 LPGA events this year but still has won four tournaments, sank birdie putts from 35 feet, 15 feet and 12 feet.

The Swedish star had seven birdies and two bogeys after spending the last five weeks resting in Lake Tahoe, Nev., and cleaning up her Orlando, Fla., home after Hurricane Charley.

``I felt rusty,'' Sorenstam said. ``It doesn't seem like it with the score. I'm surprised myself.''

Kim, a second-year pro searching for her first title, built on last weekend's second place finish at the State Farm Classic and a 6th place finish at the tour stop a week before.

Kim hit 13 fairways and attributed her recent improvement to better putting and a more efficient short game.

``I've come to realize the fewer shots you have the better your score is, the fewer putts you have the better your score is,'' Kim said sardonically.