Katelyn Dambaugh, the talented left-hander from Goose Creek, S.C., isn’t saying if she’ll turn pro if she finishes in the top 20 in Stage III of the LPGA Qualifying School this week at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla. or return to South Carolina to finish her senior season of college golf with the Gamecocks.
But she’s not saying she won’t either. She just wants to see how this turns out first.
Dambaugh was answering questions about her future Wednesday after she took a giant step toward possibly earning an LPGA Tour card when she fired a 5-under 67 on LPGA International’s Jones Course to share the opening-round lead with Thailand teen-ager Pannarat Thanapolboonyaras, who also had a 67 at the Jones course.
“I was just focusing on having fun out there,” Dambaugh, runnerup to UCLA’s Bronte Law for the Annika Award last spring, told the LPGA website. “My coach from home was on the bag and we were just out there goofing off and having fun like we always do.
“I’m just trying to take it one shot at a time and not put pressure on myself and letting the results take care of themselves.”
In between “goofing off” with her caddy, Dambaugh managed to hole out for an eagle and make five birdies to offset two bogeys.
Thanapolboonyaras earned an LPGA Tour card at last year’s Q-School, but finds herself back in the Final Stage again this year.
The top 20 finishers in Stage III earn LPGA Tour cards for 2017, but an amateur has to turn pro to accept the playing privileges.
I had a sneaking suspicion when I was watching Japanese teen Nasa Hataoka outduel Dambaugh in a crackling round-of-16 match at last summer’s U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green Golf Club that I was looking at a couple of future LPGA players.
So I am not surprised in the least that Hataoka, the youngest player in the field at 17, is part of a group tied for third, a shot back of Dambaugh and Thanapolboonyaras at 4-under 68. Hataoka, who also played the Jones Course, won the Japanese Women’s Open Championship, a major on the JLPGA Tour, as an amateur in October, but has since turned pro.
Joining Hataoka in the tie for third at 4-under are Jaye Marie Green, the medalist in this event in 2013, and Min-G Kim of Chula Vista, Calif. They also played the Jones Course.
You’ve figured out by now that the Jones Course played a little easier than the Hills Course. The best scores at the Hills Course were a trio of 3-under 69s by Mel Reid, the English woman who has twice been a member of the European Solheim Cup team, South Korean Jeong Eun Lee and French woman Celine Boutier, who helped Duke win the 2014 NCAA championship as a sophomore.
Five other players who carded 3-under 69s at the Jones Course joined Reid, Lee and Boutier in the group tied for sixth. Among them were a couple of Big Breakers, Sadena Parks, the first African American player to earn an LPGA Tour card through the Symetra Tour, and Krista Puisite, a native of Latvia. Parks competed on The Golf Channel’s “Big Break Florida” while Puisite teed it up in “Big Break Myrtle Beach.”
Also going 3-under at the Jones Course were Lauren Kim, a member of Stanford’s 2015 NCAA championship team, Karen Chung of Livingston, N.J. who is a senior on the Southern California team that is ranked No. 2 in the country by Golfstat, and Denmark’s Nicole Broch Larsen, No. 91 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Ranking.
Chung, like Dambaugh, will have a tough decision to make should she finish in the top 20 at the end of the 90-hole marathon: Turn pro or return for the second half of her senior season.
Another collegiate standout sitting in the top 20 after Day 1 is Furman senior Taylor Totland of Tinton Falls, N.J. Totland is one of eight players tied for 14th after she posted a 2-under 70 at the Jones Course.
Daniela Darquea, a senior at Miami from Ecuador, is tied for 72nd after a 2-over 74 at the Hills Course. England’s Law, a senior at UCLA and the reigning Annika Award winner, is tied for 92nd after a 3-over 75 at the Hills Course.
Reigning Big Ten champion August Kim, a senior at Purdue from St. Augustine, Fla., is tied for 111th after a 4-over 76 at the Hills Course.
Also posting a 4-over 76 at the Hills Course was Emma Talley, the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion. Talley has turned professional following an outstanding career at Alabama that included an NCAA individual crown in 2015.