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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Former 'Boilers Reto, Leblanc are tied for fourth in LPGA Q-School's Final Stage

   It’s been seven years since they celebrated an NCAA championship for Purdue at The Country Club of Landfall in Wilmington, N.C.
   But after two rounds of Stage III of the LPGA Qualifying School, the Final Stage, Thursday, there the two ’Boilers stood, tied for fourth at 3-under-par 141, three shots out of the lead at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla. Paula Reto, the South African who was just a freshman on that 2010 Purdue team, and Maude-Aimee Leblanc, the Canadian who was a junior and probably the best player for the Boilermakers that spring, together again.
   Both have had their moments as professional golfers, but if you’re at Q-School that means you didn’t have a good year. The 27-year-old Reto has won more than $500K on the LPGA Tour in her four years as a pro. The 28-year-old Leblanc has banked more than $300K in LPGA earnings in six years as a pro, including more than $173,000 in 2016.
   All you can do is put your head down and keep playing, advice they probably heard more than a few times from legendary ’Boiler boss Devon Brouse back in the day.
   Leblanc fired a 3-under-par 69 over the 6,443-yard, par-72 Jones Course Thursday after opening with an even-par 72 at the 6,566-yard, par-72 Hills Course Wednesday to join the foursome tied for fourth at 3-under 141. Reto matched par with a 72 at the Hills Course Thursday after opening with a 3-under 69 at the Jones Course Wednesday.
   There’s a long way to go in this 90-hole marathon, but the ultimate goal is to finish in the top 20 and secure full-time status on the LPGA Tour in 2018. A finish between 21st and 45th gives a player conditional status on the LPGA Tour next year. Through two rounds, they’re both playing well and they’re experienced professionals now. They’ve played under pressure before.
   “If I just kind of keep it simple for me and not worry about scoring and all that and just think about my pre-shot routine, it kind of takes care of the result,” Reto told the LPGA website. “Three more days, so it’s still a marathon.”
   Marissa Stein, a third-year pro from West Chester, Ohio, grabbed the lead with a 5-under 67 at the Jones Course Thursday that gave her a 6-under 138 total. The former Memphis standout is one of 72 players in the field who held some kind of LPGA status in 2017. Steen won $91,223 on the LPGA Tour this year.
   Right on her heels is Nasa Hataoka, the talented 18-year-old from Japan who led Q-School Final Stage after three rounds a year ago. Hataoka, a quarterfinalist in the U.S. Women’s Amateur two summers ago at Rolling Green Golf Club as a 17-year-old, carded a 1-under 71 at the Hills Course after opening with a 4-under 68 at the Jones Course Wednesday.
   Hataoka was one of five co-leaders after the opening round. The only other player from among that five still in the top 15 is South Korea’s Hyemin Kim, who joined Reto, LeBlanc and Australian Rebecca Artis in the group tied for fourth at 3-under 141.
   Kim posted a 1-over 73 at the Jones Course after her opening-round 68 at the Hills Course. Artis matched par with a 72 at the Hills Course after opening with a 3-under 69 at the Jones Course.
   Leticia Ras-Anderica of Spain is alone in third place at 4-under 140 after adding a 2-under 70 at the Jones Course to her opening-round 70 at the Hills Course. The 23-year-old, who played collegiately at Miami, has two top-10 finishes in 34 Ladies European Tour starts.
   Heading the group of eight players tied for eighth at 2-under 142 is Vicky Hurst, who had a 1-under 71 at the Hills Course after opening with a 71 at the Jones Course. Hurst was a rising star when she turned pro out of high school in Melbourne, Fla. a decade ago and she’s still only 27.
   Hurst has won $1.6 million on the LPGA Tour. She was a member of the U.S. Solheim Cup team in 2011. There are a lot of people rooting for Hurst to be a regular on the LPGA Tour again.
   There are two other veterans in that group at 2-under 142, Alison Walshe, in her ninth year, and 30-year-old Cindy LaCrosse, a former Louisville standout. Walshe’s 71 at the Hills Course matched the 71 she opened with at the Jones Course. LaCrosse had a 2-under 70 at the Hills Course Thursday after opening with an even-par 72 at the Jones Course.
   Walshe, who won 10 tournaments as a collegiate standout at Airzona, has banked nearly $1 million and has five top-10 finishes in 135 LPGA starts.
   One other player matched Steen’s 5-under 67 at the Jones Course and that was Laetitia Beck, a native of Israel who was one of the leaders on Duke’s 2014 NCAA championship team. Beck had opened with a 3-over 75 at the Hills Course and her 5-under round Thursday vaulted her into the group at 2-under 142.
   Former North Carolina standout Lori Beth Adams of Burlington, N.C. is also in the group at 142 after adding a 1-under 71 at the Jones Course to her opening-round 71 at the Hills Course. Former Southern California star Tiffany Chan of Hong Kong matched par with a 72 at the Jones Course after opening with a 2-under 70 at the Hills Course and is also in the group tied for eighth.
   Rounding out that group at 2-under are a couple of current collegians and, for now, still amateurs, Oklahoma State’s Maddie McCrary, a senior from Wylie, Texas, and Georgia’s Jillian Hollis, a junior from Rocky River, Ohio.
   McCrary, a three-time all-Big 12 selection, fired a 2-under 70 at the Jones Course after opening with an even-par 72 at the Hills Course. Hollis matched the 71 she shot Wednesday at the Hills Course with a 1-under 71 at the Jones Course in the second round.
   If they finish in the top 20, they must turn pro to be eligible to accept the LPGA Tour card that goes with the top-20 finish. 
   Rachel Rohanna, the 2007 PIAA champion as a junior at Waynesburg, fell back a little with a 2-over 74 at the Hills Course Thursday after opening with a 1-under 71 at the Jones Course. The former Ohio State standout is still in good striking distance in a tie for 28th at 1-over 145.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Hataoka at top of leaderboard as Final Stage of LPGA Q-School tees off

   They took the first tentative steps, the first mile in a marathon run, as Stage III of the LPGA Qualifying School, the Final Stage, teed off Wednesday at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla.
   It is an international cast of LPGA veterans, Symetra Tour players, recent and current college standouts and Ladies European Tour (LET) players all with one goal in mind: Finish in the top 20 and earn full status on the LPGA Tour for 2018. If you finish between 21st and 45th, you earn conditional LPGA status for 2018.
   They began a 90-hole grind, at least for those who survive the 72-hole cut, Wednesday. It offers a unique kind of drama, really good players fighting for their professional lives.
   Of course, even surviving this week only offers an opportunity. Nothing is guaranteed. Just ask Nasa Hataoka, a Japanese teen-ager who finished tied for 14th in Stage III a year ago when she was the youngest player in the field at 17.
   But she struggled, as you might suspect a teen professional would. Hataoka finished 140th on the LPGA money list in her rookie season with earnings of just $37,852.
   I had watched her defeat former South Carolina star Katelyn Dambaugh, 2 and 1, in a wildly entertaining round-of-16 match at the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green Golf Club. Both played terrific golf the whole day.
   Hataoka got off to another great start Wednesday, firing a 4-under-par 68 over the 6,449-yard, par-72 Jones Course at LPGA International to share the lead four other players after the opening round.
   Nobody knows better than Hataoka how long the week at LPGA International can get. She led the field through three rounds a year ago at 14-under 202 only to back off with rounds of 75 and 78. It was good enough to get her an LPGA Tour card, but she was struggling at the end.
   “Playing five days, you get tired, so I try to keep focusing my mind,” Hataoka told the LPGA website after Wednesday’s opening round. “Every single day, I just have to focus on every single day.”
   Hataoka is one of 72 players in the field who held some LPGA status in 2017, but are back in Q-School trying to return to the big leagues of women’s professional golf in 2018.
   Joining Hataoka atop the leaderboard after Wednesday’s opening round are former Southern California standout Gabriella Then, a native of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., Sherman Santiwiwatthanaphong of Thailand, Hyemin Kim of South Korea and Anne Van Dam, an LET entry from the Netherlands.
   It looked like Then might have the lead to herself when she birdied the 10th, 12th, 13th and 16th holes to get it to 5-under at the 6,566-yard, par-72 Hills Course, but a bogey at the 17th dropped her back into the five-way logjam at 4-under.
   Santiwiwatthanaphong and Kim also recorded their 68s at the Hills Course while Van Dam matched the 68 Hataoka carded at the Jones Course.
   Heading the threesome tied for sixth at 3-under 69 was South African Paula Reto, who played the Jones Course. When I was following the collegiate career of Delco’s own Aurora Kan at Purdue, Reto was one of her teammates. She has shown flashes on the LPGA Tour. It will be interesting to see how she fares this week. There has been little doubt that Reto has the talent to be a consistent performer on the LPGA Tour.
   Also in the group at 3-under is Lauren Kim, a native of Los Altos, Calif. who was a member of Stanford’s 2015 NCAA championship team, and Australian Rebecca Artis. Kim and Artis, like Reto, played the Jones Course Wednesday.
   An interesting name appears among the six players tied for ninth at 2-under 70 with all of those scores coming at the Hills Course, which seemed to play a little easier than the Jones Course in the opening round.
   That would be Samantha Wagner, a native of the Easton area who moved to Florida and was a junior phenom. Wagner was part of a really, really strong Florida team that won Southeast Conference and NCAA Columbus Regional titles last spring and reached match play in the NCAA Championship at Rich Harvest Farms before falling to eventual national champion Arizona State.
   Wagner, who played two years with the Gators, was the medalist in a U.S. Open qualifier last spring at Hidden Creek Golf Club in Egg Harbor Township, N.J. and decided, pretty much that day, to turn pro and make her professional debut at the U.S. Women’s Open at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. She missed the cut with a 155 total.
   Another former Southern Cal standout, Tiffany Chan of Hong Kong, is also in the group at 2-under 70.
   Wagner and Chan were joined by Martina Edberg, a former Cal State-Fullerton standout from Sweden, Amber Wong, a former California-Davis standout from San Francisco, Leticia Ras-Anderica of Spain and American Sammi Stevens.
   There are 15 players tied for 15th at 1-under 71, including Rachel Rohanna, the 2007 PIAA champion as a junior at Waynesburg. Rohanna, a collegiate standout at Ohio State, finished in the top 10 on the Symetra Tour a couple of years ago to earn her LPGA Tour card, but has been unable to maintain that status.
   There’s a pretty neat pre-tournament story by Bret Lasky on the LPGA website about Rohanna, who owns a working cattle farm in southwestern Pennsylvania with her husband.
   The low amateur in the field after round 1, Georgia junior Jillian Hollis of Rocky River, Ohio, is also in that group tied for 15th at 1-under 71.
   In some pre-tournament notes, it certainly sounded like Hollis is planning to turn professional no matter how Stage III of Q-School turns out, although she still has the option of returning to Athens if she doesn’t have a high finish.
   It seems as though some top college program has a player turn pro between the fall and spring portions of the college season. Needless to say, Hollis would leave a big hole in the Bulldogs’ lineup if she does decide to pursue her professional ambition.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Galdiano heads a dozen hopefuls for U.S. Curtis Cup team in practice session at Shoal Creek

   It was a remarkably young group of American golfers that went into battle with a talented Great Britain & Ireland team at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club in Enniskerry, Ireland outside of Dublin in the Curtis Cup Match in the spring of 2016.
   It was going to be a tough ask for that group to knock off GB&I any way you wanted to look  at it. The presence of Leona Maguire, a native of Ireland and one of the top amateur players in the world, on the GB&I roster probably had the partisan Irish golf fans even more fired up than they normally would be.
   I got a chance to talk to Mariel Galdiano, who was just out of high school in Pearl City, Hawaii when she represented the U.S. in Ireland, after she had earned medalist honors in qualifying for the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green Golf Club.
   She was brilliant that day at Rolling Green, firing a 6-under 65, tying the second-best single round in U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifying history and bettering the 36-hole qualifying record by two shots with her 9-under 133 total. Her experience in Ireland was still very fresh in her mind.
   “When you’re in that situation with cameras on you and a big crowd cheering for GB&I, I had to learn to focus on myself,” Galdiano said.
   The UCLA sophomore is one of 12 U.S. women, including one other holdover from that 2016 U.S. squad that dropped an 11.5-8.5 decision to GB&I, who accepted an invitation from the USGA International Team Selection Committee to participate in a practice session for the 2018 Curtis Cup Match. The practice session will be held Dec. 17 and 18 at Shoal Creek in Alabama, site of the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open.
   The 2018 Curtis Cup Match will be held June 8 to 10 at Quaker Ridge Golf Club in Scarsdale, N.Y. An invitation to the practice session does not guarantee a spot on the team. A lot of the spring college season will be played before the final selections are made for the eight-woman U.S. side.
   The other veteran of the 2016 Curtis Cup Match invited to Shoal Creek is Stanford sophomore Andrea Lee of Hermosa Beach, Calif., who, like Galdiano, had just finished high school when she headed across the pond to Ireland.
   At 19, I suspect Lee will be one of the leaders on this U.S. team. I was tremendously impressed with her talent and her grit in a 1-up loss to eventual champion Eun Jeong Seong in the quarterfinals at Rolling Green. A couple of weeks earlier, Lee fell to Seong in the final of the U.S. Junior Girls’ Championship at Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J.
   While probably not as young as the team that lost at Dun Laoghaire, it will likely be another youthful bunch representing the Stars and Stripes at Quaker Ridge. The oldest player invited to the practice session is 21-year-old Sophia Schubert, the reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion from Oak Ridge, Tenn.
   Schubert was the leading lady for a Texas team that captured the Big 12 title last spring and advanced to the NCAA Championship at Rich Harvest Farms. She was an impressive winner of the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, claiming a hard-fought 6 and 5 victory over Switzerland’s Albane Valenzuela, No. 4 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Rankings, in the final at San Diego Country Club.
   Schubert, probably underrated in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking at 21st, is the senior leader on a young, but talented Texas team that was ranked 10th by Golfstat when the college golf season took its midseason break. Schubert missed the beginning of the college season while teeing it up in The Evian Championship, the LPGA’s final major championship of the season. She was one of just two amateurs to make the cut at The Evian and finished tied for 58th.
   Schubert is one of two U.S. Women Amateur champions who will participate in the Curtis Cup practice session. Kristen Gillman, a sophomore for No. 3 Alabama from Austin, Texas, is only 20, but seems older since she’s been around forever, winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur at 16 in 2014 at Nassau Country Club. Gillman is No. 11 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking.
   Gillman will be joined by two of her Crimson Tide teammates not far from their Alabama campus in the practice session at Shoal Creek. Lauren Stephenson, a 20-year-old from Lexington, S.C., and Cheyenne Knight, a 20-year-old from Aledo, Texas, round out the powerful trio at the top of the Alabama lineup. Stephenson and Knight, Nos. 6 and 8, respectively, in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, are juniors at Alabama.
   Galdiano, No. 12 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, will be joined at Shoal Creek by her teammate on the No. 1 UCLA team, 20-year-old Lilia Vu of Fountain Valley, Calif. Vu, who fell to Valenzuela in the U.S. Women’s Amateur semifinals at San Diego Country Club, is No. 2 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking behind only Ireland’s Maguire.
   If Vu isn’t the top individual player in college golf, Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho is. The 20-year-old Kupcho of Westminster, Colo. is No. 3 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking. She appeared headed for an NCAA individual title at Rich Harvest Farms when her approach to the 17th hole found the water and left her a frustrated runnerup. Kupcho played like a woman on a mission this fall.
   The Pacific Athletic Conference, the best in college golf, will be well represented at Shoal Creek. In addition to UCLA’s Galdiano and Vu and Stanford’s Lee, Southern California junior Robynn Ree, a 20-year-old from Redondo Beach, Calif., and Arizona junior Haley Moore, an 18-year-old from Escondido, Calif., have also accepted invitations to the Curtis Cup practice session.
   The USGA didn’t forget to invite a couple of the top junior players in the country, Lucy Li, a 15-year-old from Redwood City, Calif., and Rachel Heck, a 16-year-old from Memphis, Tenn., to Shoal Creek.
   Li validated that decision last week by cruising to a five-shot victory in the American Junior Golf Association’s Rolex Tournament of Champions at PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Li’s 13-under 275 total included a spectacular 10-under 62 at PGA National’s Champion Course in which she unfurled a back nine of 7-under 29.
   Heck, AJGA’s Rolex Player of the Year, finished tied for 33rd in the U.S. Women’s Open at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. last summer before she reached her 16th birthday.
   Schubert, Ree, Vu, Stephenson and Li were all quarterfinalists in the U.S. Women’s Amateur at San Diego Country Club, Stephenson falling in an epic 30-hole match to Chin Yen Wu, a 13-year-old phenom from Chinese Taipei.
   Galdiano probably won’t have to worry about having cameras in her face at Quaker Ridge. The Curtis Cup is just not as big a deal in the States as it is in Great Britain & Ireland. I’m quite certain that the golf community of the New York City area will represent when it comes to rooting on the U.S. team.
   They better because some of those same loud Irish fans who rooted GB&I on to victory at Dun Laoghaire will undoubtedly make the trip across the pond for this one.
   U.S. captain Virginia Derby Grimes, a member of winning U.S. Curtis Cup sides in 1998, 2004 and 2006, will get her first look at some of the top candidates to make up her team at Shoal Creek. They are a talented dozen indeed.