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Kiggens Can Be One of the Best When She Putts Her Mind to It : Golf: Freshman will lead the UCLA's women's team in NCAA meet this week.

May 23, 1991|RAY RIPTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When UCLA's Lisa Kiggens puts her mind to it, she can be one of collegiate golf's best players--and her mind is almost always on golf.

In her first college season, Kiggens, a 5-foot-5 freshman from Bakersfield, has already tied the UCLA record for most tournament victories in a career. She has won three this year, including the Pacific 10 Conference tournament, tying former Bruins Kay Cockerill, now a touring professional, and Jean Zedlitz.

The nation's fifth-ranked woman college golfer, Kiggens has averaged a team-best 75.2 strokes a round this season. She and UCLA are in the NCAA championships, which began Wednesdayand end Sunday at Ohio State University.

The strong showing by Kiggens this season should come as no surprise. She won the 1990 women's Junior World and Junior America's Cup championships, and she was an all-league member of the 1989 and 1990 state championship teams at Bakersfield West High--the boys' teams.

She also competed in four state girls' individual finals, finishing as high as second in 1990. She might have won a couple of girls' state titles if she hadn't been playing with the West High boys' team at the same time.

Don Gabbitas, her coach for her last two years in high school, said Kiggens played with the boys' team in the morning and then had to compete in the individual girls' finals in the afternoon.

In 1989, Gabbitas said, the state tournament was held at Bakersfield Country Club. "Lisa had to carry her own clubs (with the boys' team) and walk the course, which is extremely hilly and long. Then she had lunch and teed it up with the girls, who were not competing with a team and were fresh and rested."

Gabbitas said Kiggens' morning-round score with the boys' team two years ago would have won the girls' tournament, which she came close to winning anyway.

Kiggens has no interest in coming close.

"I have high goals," she said. "I expect I've always been that way. Every tournament I go into, I'm not unhappy if I place in the top five. But I want to go in there and win. If you try for second place, you never get anywhere."

Kiggens, who is coming off a tournament-record score of 219 for 54 holes in the California Collegiate competition, hopes to go somewhere in the NCAA championships. She also thinks the Bruins are capable of winning the NCAA team title.

Of her own quest for the national title, she said: "There are a lot of opponents out there, but if I just put my mind to it, I think I have a good chance. A lot of (golf) is mind, probably 70%. . . . You've got to have confidence."

She said UCLA, ranked third nationally, has won its last two tournaments, beating No. 2 Arizona State to win the Pac-10 and defeating top-ranked San Jose State to win the California Collegiate. "The team has a very good chance in the NCAAs," she added.

Kiggens' game is built on confidence, consistency, long drives, accurate approach shots and, she says, shaky putting.

She developed most of her strengths as a member of the Bakersfield West boys' team.

Playing on a boys' team, she said, "was hell. All they wanted to do was beat me, and they got mad when I beat them. Even the guys from the other teams would ask, 'What did she shoot?'

"When we were hitting balls, (her boy teammates) would always out-drive me," Kiggens said. "I didn't like that and would try to keep up--and I kept up."

Now her drives carry 250 yards, sometimes a bit farther, she said, but "people look at me and think there's no way. A lot of people think I'm so small that I can't hit the ball a long way."

Gabbitas said that whenever Bakersfield West played another team, there was "tremendous competition because the other guys could not stand the thought of being beaten or out-driven by a girl. But there were very few guys she couldn't out-drive or beat."

He said Kiggens' "greatest strength is her consistency. Without a doubt, she was my most consistent golfer. I had some golfers who could put lower--but also higher--scores on the board. She was always very close to par.

"The times I really appreciated Lisa was when we had big matches," Gabbitas said. "Her scores never fluctuated. I always knew she would have something in the 70s."

Kiggens said she is satisfied with her iron game: She has averaged hitting 13 greens a round this season. But she is not at all pleased with her putting, which she thinks is the worst part of her game.

In one round in the Ohio State Invitational in October, she had 41 putts and shot an 80. She likes to keep it "around 31 putts. Under 30 is really good."

Kiggens said she was putting so badly at one tournament this season that after two bad rounds she resorted to hitting her putts cross-handed. That unorthodox grip worked on the third day, when she shot a 70.

"I don't feel comfortable standing over the ball (on a putt)," Kiggens said. "Sometimes I do think too much."

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