Klein's Divine route into lead

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The Independent Online
What any professional sport craves is television coverage. A few years back the ladies held a pro tournament over the Duke's course here in wind and rain and the TV pictures were a disaster for their game. They showed players taking an age to reach the green and racking up scores that would have been an embarrassment to a club golfer.

Yesterday the pictures told a different story. The girls were out in shorts, visors and sunglasses (shorts are not permitted in the men's game) and were hitting the Duke's with birdies and eagles in the second round of the Weetabix British Open which has attracted more than 20,000 spectators in two days. A measure of the improvement in the health of the European Tour is that the prize-money for the tournament, pounds 500,000, is greater than the purse sometimes played for in events on the men's professional circuit.

And leading the rush by a handsome margin for the first prize of pounds 80,000 at the half-way stage was another refreshing figure, Emilee Klein. Klein, 22 from Santa Monica, California, is typical of the new breed entering what is becoming a lucrative business.

Her father, an insurance agent, encouraged Emilee to play golf from the age of nine and she found it more interesting than other Californian pursuits like surfing and beach volleyball. "For some reason my dad knew what it would take to be a good golfer and he helped me on my training," she said. "It is one of those games that you have to take up when you are young if you want to be a great player. You can be a good player if you take it up when you are older but it is not as easy. I picked it up pretty naturally."

By the time she was 14 she was the state amateur champion and was playing practice rounds with Tiger Woods. She turned professional after being named Collegiate Player of the Year in 1994. Last season she won nearly $180,000 (pounds 116,000) and last week gained her maiden victory, the Ping Welch's Championship in Massachusetts, beating Karrie Webb into second place.

Yesterday Klein added a 66 to a 68 and, at 12 under par for the tournament, she leads Webb, Annika Sorenstam and Alison Nicholas by five strokes. Klein has five woods in her bag - a driver, 3,4,7 (called the Heaven 7) and 9 (called the Divine 9). "They are easier to hit than irons and I can get so much more height," she said. Klein used the Divine 9 wood off the tee at the 175 yards 11th hole and rolled in a 35-foot putt for a two, her fourth two of the round and a full house on the par threes.

Apart from cramming her bag with woods, she is also a self-confessed shoe collector. Her caddie is tired of bearing the burden so this week she has packed only 12 pairs of assorted footwear. "I don't know how many pairs I've got altogether," Klein said, "but I'm gaining on Imelda Marcos." The other thing about Klein is that she does not keep her caddie at arm's length.

The poor chap who carries her bag is her boyfriend, Kenny Harms. When they take a holiday they play golf. He was her caddie before becoming her boyfriend. "Once in a while we have an argument, usually about the way I'm thinking," Klein, who wears the shorts, said. "It can be difficult but we have learned how to make it work. Having him as my boyfriend I get a lot more support than I did when he was just my caddie. He wants me to play better for more reasons than one but you have to learn how to separate business from pleasure." She has already given him a pay increase, matching a counter-offer.

Laura Davies, the world No 1, made the half-way cut, but only just, following a 75 that leaves her 13 shots adrift of the leader. "Two more days of misery," Davies, who invariably finds Woburn as straitlaced as a corset, remarked. "This course scares me too much. It's not the course's fault. I just can't sort it out." Davies, who began the first round as 9-2 favourite, is now 33-1 with Klein installed as evens favourite to win the biggest tournament in Europe.