Stage III of the LPGA Qualifying School tees off Wednesday at LPGA International’s Jones and Hills courses in Daytona Beach, Fla., although the big news is about a player who won’t be there.
It had to be a tough call for Duke junior Leona Maguire, the No. 1 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking from Ireland, but she decided on the eve of Stage III not to compete and remain at Duke. That sound you heard was a sigh of relief from Duke women’s golf coach Dan Brooks.
Seriously though, Brooks would never stand in the way of a player as talented as Maguire if she wanted to turn pro. A couple of the factors in Maguire’s decision probably don’t have a whole lot to do with golf. One is that one of her Duke teammates is twin sister Lisa. While Leona’s game has flourished in college, Lisa has struggled while rebuilding her swing. With family, it’s complicated, but this sister act is sticking together for a little while longer.
One other factor might be that we’re talking about Duke. That diploma might be a nice little fallback if the golf thing doesn’t work out, or even if it does.
“Upon considerable deliberation, I have decided to withdraw from Stage III of LPGA Q-School and not pursue LPGA membership for 2017,” Leona Maguire told the Duke website. “This is not a decision that I have taken lightly, but one that I feel is best for me in the pursuit of my long-term aspirations.
“I am thankful for the continuous support of my parents, friends, teammates, coach Shane O’Grady, ILGU (the Irish Ladies Golf Union) and everyone at Duke and for their guidance in helping me to reach my decision.”
O’Grady is the teaching pro in Ireland who has helped develop Maguire into one of the most talented young players in the planet.
Maguire was the low amateur at this summer’s RICOH Women’s British Open, finishing in a tie for 25th at 4-under 284 at Woburn Golf Club. She represented Ireland in the Summer Olympics in Brazil and finished tied for 21st at 2-under 282. She fired a 3-under 67 in the final round of the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship in Mexico to help Ireland capture the bronze medal, the first medal won by her homeland at the event.
Oh yeah, and last spring Maguire helped Great Britain & Ireland defeat the United States in the Curtis Cup Match, played before a raucous crowd on Maguire’s home soil at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club in suburban Dublin.
“I am fortunate to have had some incredible experiences this past summer competing at the Olympics and in the British and U.S. Opens that reinforced my desire to play professional golf,” Maguire told Duke’s website. “My dream is and always has been to compete alongside the world’s best on the LPGA Tour and this remains resolutely unchanged.
“It is my intention to turn professional after graduation in May 2018 and I look forward to enjoying many more unforgettable experiences representing Duke, Ireland and myself as an amateur golfer until then.”
Only the top 20 finishers from the 157-player field for the Stage III tourney will earn unconditional playing privileges on the LPGA Tour in 2017. Those finishing between 21st and 45th earn conditional status and anyone who completes 72 holes, but doesn’t qualify for the LPGA Tour is eligible to compete in the Symetra Tour, the LPGA’s developmental circuit. If an amateur finishes in the top 20, she has to declare that she is turning professional to get her tour card.
It is a big week for the pros vying for a ticket to play in professional golf’s big league, but it can also change the landscape for the second half of the NCAA Division I season. A year ago, Arkansas’ Gaby Lopez qualified for the tour at the Stage III tourney and the Razorbacks lost one of their top players. Fortunately for Arkansas, Lopez’s fellow Mexican, Maria Fassi, showed up as a freshman and had an immediate impact, softening the blow of Lopez’s departure a little.
UCLA, for instance, may lose one of its top players as senior Bronte Law of England is in the field. Law was a teammate of Leona Maguire’s on the winning GB&I Curtis Cup team and is the reigning Annika Award winner, which goes to the top player in Division I women’s golf. Law also made the cut at the RICOH Women’s British Open, finishing in a tie for 50th at 2-over 290.
The runnerup in Annika Award voting, South Carolina senior Katelyn Dambaugh of Goose Creek, S.C., is also in the field. Big Ten champion August Kim, a senior at Purdue from St. Augustine, Fla., is another player who might heed the call of professional golf if she has a good week at LPGA International.
There are also some players who teed it up at last summer’s U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green Golf Club and have since turned pro who will be trying to earn their way onto the LPGA Tour.
Chief among them is Japan’s Nasa Hataoka, who recently made history by becoming the youngest player to win a JLPGA major championship when she captured the Japan Women’s Open Championship. She was still an amateur when she won the Japan Women’s Open Championship in October, but I’m pretty sure the plan is for her to turn pro.
One of the best matches I saw at Rolling Green was a third-round battle between the 17-year-old Hataoka and Dambaugh. Hataoka pulled out a 2 and 1 victory, but there were a lot of quality golf shots from both players.
One of Duke's top players the last four years turned pro not long after the Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green. French woman Celine Boutier was a sophomore and a key contributor on Duke’s 2014 NCAA championship team.
Boutier played on some Symetra Tour events this summer following her senior season at Duke. Boutier will be joined in the field at LPGA International by her opponent in a third-round match at Rolling Green, 19-year-old Australian Hannah Green. Boutier fell to Green, 4 and 3.
Green reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur before falling in 19 holes to another French woman, Mathilda Cappeliez, who is a freshman on the Wake Forest golf team.
Wake Forest senior Sierra Sims, who had a strong fall portion of the season for the Demon Deacons, is another college player who will give it a shot at LPGA International this week. Sims of Austin, Texas was a first-round casualty at Rolling Green, suffering a 2 and 1 setback at the hands of Sirene Blair of South Jordan, Utah, a senior at San Diego State.