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Rancho Santa Fe Sports

Jay Paris: Recari among LPGA stars heading to Aviara

The smile says it all, as does the plaque.

The grin comes courtesy of golfer Beatriz Recari, the vivacious 5-foot-4 Spaniard spark plug who’s preparing to defend her KIA Classic championship.

The hunk of metal sits off the right fringe of the Aviara Resort’s18th hole, where Recari drained an 18-foot putt to prevail in last year’s playoff.

Recari was in town preparing for this month’s the $1.7 million KIA Classic. Last spring it was Recari producing some March magic, as she scored a winning weekend for herself and North County.

“It definitely was huge,’’ she said.

But not just because she snapped a streak of 57 tournaments between LPGA win No. 1 and No. 2. The KIA Classic also gave the North County golf community a boost and its return for year two is a positive sign.

La Costa Resort was long the hang out for pros when bringing their games hard by Batiquitos Lagoon.

The KIA Classic was held at La Costa in 2010, exited for Industry Hills in ‘11 and returned last year, although to Aviara.

The PGA’s Tournament of Champions morphed into the WGC Match Play at La Costa.

But when Tiger Woods complained about the rain which often marred the latter, the men said, “later’’ and it moved in 2007.

That’s comical on two counts: the sky once actually produced steady moisture in these parts; Woods didn’t play in this year’s Match Play in Tucson, Ariz.

But back to California grass, that patch where Recari bested I.K. Kim with last year’s daunting putt in fading light and an accelerating wind.

“It was getting dark and it was getting late,’’ Recari said.

As often happens, the words of wisdom are spoken by a caddy. But Andreas Throp’s tip had more to do with reading the tealeaves than the green.

“Hey we can’t be here forever,’’ Thorp told Recari. “We have to get this one right now.’’

Recari, who gained her third Tour win later in the year at Toledo, got right to it.

Her putt found the hole and the KIA Classic found a champion with as much game off the course as on it.

The No. 21-ranked player is funny, bubbly, engaging and realizes there’s more to life than chasing a dimpled ball around manicured layouts.

Recari, 26, will be just one of the LPGA stars hanging in Carlsbad. The four-day, 144-player KIA Classic features 49 of the world’s top 50 female golfers as it cements its standing among the Tour’s 32 events.

This year tournament is staged one week before the LPGA’s first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship in Mission Hiils. With the KIA Classic keenly positioned on the calendar, it figures to be a destination competition for years to come.

Plus the distinctive Aviara track is easy on the eyes

“It’s an amazing course,’’ said Tiffany Joh, the Rancho Bernardo High graduate who’s back on the Tour. “I live here so I have the bragging rights.’’

Recari said what makes Aviara unique is its variety.

“It seems like every hole has its own character,’’ she said. “It’s not like one of those courses where you can not remember the difference between No. 13 and No. 14, where they all seem the same.’’

Recari is different in that she went public with a private matter. It was at last year’s KIA Classic that she spoke of an eating disorder she battled in her youth. She revealed how difficult it was to overcome; with the motivation being maybe her story could help others.

She joined forces with The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness to spread the word.

That tricky 18-footer she nailed on the second playoff hole at Aviara last year? That takes a backseat to her charity work.

“Winning really doesn’t make you happy,’’ she said. “What makes you happy is making a difference in a good way and I’m really proud of that. It is definitely important for me to give back something and it was something I wanted to do for a long time.

“I struggled with that illness; I was able to overcome that and compete at the highest level. I definitely needed to go out there and make sure that from something so negative in my life I could make it a positive.

“If I can help one girl, that was all I needed for me to talk about it and be willing to do it.’’

Contact Jay Paris at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at jparis_sports