Torrey Pines alumna to compete in Kia Classic

The shelves at most chain bookstores overflow with golfing instruction guides.

Comb through all of them — from Jack Nicklaus’ “Golf My Way,” considered the genre’s timeless classic, to the current hit, Golf Magazine’s “The Best Instruction Book Ever!,” and the thousands in between — and you’ll be hard pressed to find any of them claim training horses can cut shots off your game.

Kaitlin Drolson won’t promise it’ll remedy that stubborn slice, but the amateur sensation cites her experience training horses in San Diego County as a key factor in her golfing development.

“I was constantly getting thrown off and I was always taught to get back on,” Drolson said.

“I think through (training) horses I really learned a lot of that toughness. That’s where I really got that tough mentality.”

It’s hard to argue with the results.

The Torrey Pines alumna is now a 20-year-old sophomore at Pepperdine University of Malibu who, despite maintaining her amateur status, is becoming an increasingly familiar face among the professional ranks.

Drolson last summer burst onto the national scene when she qualified for and competed in the 2009 U.S. Open at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pa.

She doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.

Drolson earned the right to play in the prestigious Kia Classic March 22 qualifying match at La Costa Canyon Resort and Spa after placing second in a March 9 prequalifier at La Costa.

Del Mar resident Courtney Hooten shot an 87 at the March 9 prequalifier, placing her in a four-way tie for 22nd place.

Drolson needs to place among the top two on March 22nd to qualify for an elite field of 144 golfers who will compete for a $1.7 million purse at the March 25-28 tournament.

Drolson, who has publicly said her goal is to play professionally, is seeking her first LPGA event qualification at the Kia Classic. The U.S. Open, the first professional event for which she qualified, is sanctioned by the USGA.

“It’s my hometown,” Drolson said. “If I get in (to the tournament), there’s definitely going to be a lot of people coming to watch me.”

Drolson’s grit served her especially well at the March 9 prequalifier, where she shot a 6-over-par 78 amid horrendously high winds. She placed second to Alison Lee, a 14-year-old Valencia phenom, who shot a 77.

A self-described “grinder,” Drolson prides herself as much for her steely determination as her majestic tee shots.

“It was pretty ugly out there,” she said. “Some of other players were upset about it, but it definitely got down to a mental thing as far as who wanted to grind it out the hardest. It got where if anyone was just a little bit hot and started playing well in that weather, they could take it.”

Pepperdine coach Laurie Gibbs cites Drolson’s well-rounded game and strong golfing aptitude to be among her greatest assets.

But it is Drolson’s ability to maintain a competitive fire while at the same time keeping her composure that sets her apart.

“If she makes one or two bad shots that’s really not going to faze her much,” Gibbs said. “She’s going to really continue to focus on trying to make good quality shots all the way to the end of the round.

“That really says a lot.”

Drolson’s career took off almost immediately after she started taking lessons when she was 10.

Her career highlights include shooting a 6-under-par 30 on a nine-hole course at Rancho Bernardo Inn as a sophomore, and being named the San Diego Junior Golf Association’s Player of the Year in 2006.

But it is her contributions in team play that she says she cherishes most.

Drolson helped lead Torrey Pines to a 2004 state title her freshman year.

She was a Pepperdine freshman in 2008 when the Waves set an NCAA record, shooting a 41-under-par 823 NCAA at the Las Vegas Collegiate Showdown.

She said former Falcons coach John Olive instilled in her and teammates the attitude of “playing for something bigger than myself.”

“Golf is such an individual sport, so high school and college are pretty much the only times you’re ever going to get to play for your team,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun to play on a team because it’s very rare in golf.”

Drolson said the hardest part about adjusting to the college game is juggling the school’s rigorous academics and the demands that come with playing for an elite program.

The Waves are ranked 10th by the National Golf Coaches’ Association and fourth by Golfweek/Sagarin’s national collegiate rankings.

“It’s hard in high school too, but everybody expects a lot more from you (in college) and you expect a lot more from yourself, so it’s just at a different level. Just like when you turn pro, you’re up at a different level.

“You just have to keep the pressure on yourself and have fun.”