On the surface, Sarah Kemp’s place in the field for this week’s Australian Women’s Classic at Bonville Golf Resort near Coffs Harbour makes no sense on the surface as opposed to her place in the field.
A week after a top-30 finish in Hawaii and opposite an LPGA Tour event in Los Angeles, it would not normally find a spot within Kemp’s busy schedule.
Yes, there are Rolex Women’s World Ranking points to be earned and status to be maintained on the Ladies European Tour. There is also the opportunity to make up for the disappointment of contracting COVID-19 on the eve of the Australian WPGA Championship at Royal Queensland in January – forcing her withdrawal from the tournament.
But, above all else, the driving force behind adding her star power to a tournament in regional New South Wales came down to this: She thought it would make her happy.
More than that, she thought she needed it.
Driving to the NSW North Coast on Tuesday following a session in Sydney with long-time coach John Serhan, Kemp had episodes of her new favourite podcast at the ready for the six-hour journey.
The Imperfects is an off-shoot of The Resilience Project, hosted by co-founder and presenter Hugh van Cuylenburg and featuring his brother Josh and Australian comedian and media personality Ryan Shelton.
Speaking with athletes, musicians, actors and accomplished people within business, a major focus is vulnerability, a subject to which Kemp feels closely connected.
Now 36 years of age and in her 15th season in the US, Kemp continues to wrestle with expectation and pressure – both externally and that which she places upon herself – but with a growing realisation that her results alone should not define her happiness.
Which brings us to Bonville and the almost 9,000-kilometre journey to get there.
“The older I’ve gotten, the more anxious I’ve gotten, especially with travel and being away from home so much,” revealed Kemp, whose parents moved from Sydney to Tuncurry on the Mid North Coast when she was 16 and are with her this week in Coffs Harbour.
“I have a great job. I’m very blessed to be playing golf for a living but it’s kind of difficult. I love Australia so much, I very rarely get back here, I’m really close with all my family and I don’t see them very much anymore.
“It didn’t bother me as much in my 20s but it bothers me now. I hate it.
“It’s one of the reasons that I’m playing this week. I love Bonville, I’m playing in a cart, staying with my parents and I have a lot of family in Coffs. I was like, ‘I’m going to go play. That’s what I want to do. I want to go and play golf in Australia for a week.’
“It doesn’t really fit in with playing on the LPGA but in terms of my headspace I thought it would be a nice chance to get home and see my mates.”
Playing in Australia would ordinarily form part of Kemp’s preparation for an upcoming LPGA Tour season but her last-minute withdrawal from the WPGA Championship and subsequent week in a Brisbane hotel put paid to those plans.
After an understandably slow start there were positive signs at last week’s Lotte Championship in Hawaii, playing in the final group in the third round before finishing tied for 26th.
That form reversal and experience will make her one of the favourites this week in what will also serve as something of a tribute to Jack Newton who passed away last Friday, players to wear black ribbons as a show of respect.
For almost a decade Bonville Golf Resort has served as the host venue for the Jack Newton Junior Golf Foundation’s Champions Trophy, Kemp one of the star graduates who was deeply impacted by Newton’s influence.
“I meant what I said on Twitter. I don’t know if I’d be where I am today without the Jack Newton Junior Golf Foundation,” said Kemp.
“I remember my first event when I was 12. I won the nett and won a Karrie Webb pair of socks, I’ll never forget it.
“I played all the age championships, they had the International Week of Golf, I played all of them.
“We were the luckiest state in the world having the Jack Newton Junior Golf Foundation and all the events that you could play as a kid.
“It was so much fun and it was great competition so I truly mean that, I don’t know if I’d be where I am today without all of that golf that I played as a junior.
“Later I played in the Celebrity Classic and got to spend more time with Jack there and he was just a true-blue Aussie legend.
“He was a legend on and off the golf course.”
Kemp has been drawn to play with rising Swedish star Maja Stark and promising Aussie amateur Kelsey Bennett in the opening round, teeing off within the gorgeous Bonville surrounds at 7.10am Thursday morning.
Other marquee groups include that of Kirsten Rudgeley, Julia Engstrom and Momoka Kobori (7am), Meghan MacLaren, Whitney Hillier and Belinda Ji (7.20am) and local hope Amelia Mehmet Grohn, England’s Holly Clyburn and amateur Keeley Marx.