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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Rolling Green alumni make the cut at LPGA Q-School's Final Stage

   While looking over the results of Stage III of the LPGA Qualifying School – the Final Stage – which concluded with no shortage of drama Sunday at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla., I couldn’t help but travel back to the first week of August in 2016 and look at the results of qualifying for match play for the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green Golf Club.
   The results of USGA events sometimes disappear from the Internet, but the whole week from Rolling Green was still there and there were three names all bunched together in a tie for ninth at 3-under 139 after two rounds around the William Flynn gem in Springfield, Delaware County who were a big part of the story at LPGA International: Tiffany Chan of Hong Kong, Robynn Ree of Redondo Beach, Calif. and Maria Torres of Puerto Rico.
   They are three more alumni from that week at Rolling Green who are moving on to the LPGA Tour, three stories out of the 20 who earned full-time status in the big leagues of women’s golf for 2018.
   The 24-year-old Chan was the runnerup to Q-School Final Stage medalist Nasa Hataoka of Japan – she was there, too, at Rolling Green, more on that later – with a final round of 3-under 69 at 6,566-yard, par-72 Hills Course that left her with an 11-under 349 total, just a shot behind the 18-year-old Hataoka in the grueling 90-hole marathon.
    A lot of schedules were rearranged in the summer of 2016 as players from around the world wanted to join the party in Rio de Janiero for the return of golf to the Summer Olympics after a century-long absence. And even though she missed the Opening Ceremony, Chan made sure she fit both the Women’s Amateur and the Olympic Games into her schedule.
   Chan lost in the first round of match play at Rolling Green in 21 holes to Gabrielle Shipley and immediately headed for Brazil. She was one of just three amateurs in the field in Rio, joining Ireland’s Leona Maguire and Switzerland’s Albane Valenzuela, Nos. 1 and 4, respectively, in the latest Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking.
   Chan had just completed her junior year at Southern California in the summer of 2016 after two years of junior college golf at Daytona State College. That played out in her favor last week as the Jones and Hills course where the Q-School Final Stage was played were her home courses those two years at Daytona State.
   Chan teamed with Ree to help the Trojans reach the semifinals of the NCAA Championship at Rich Harvest Farms last spring before coming up just short of a trip to the final at the hands of Northwestern.
   She played on the Symetra Tour last summer, but not well enough to finish among the top 10 who earned promotion to the LPGA Tour. By the way, Golfweek published capsule roundups of each of the 20 Q-School graduates. There is so much more to each of their journeys, but it is an interesting look at the many roads that lead to the LPGA Tour.
   The 20-year-old Ree, the second-youngest Q-School graduate after Hataoka, was mentally prepared to return to Southern Cal for the second half of her junior season. But then she fired a 6-under 66 at the 6,449-yard, par-72 Jones Course in Saturday’s fourth round to surge into contention.
   She finished up with a 2-under 70 to end up tied for fifth at 7-under 353. Ree had a decision to make: Turn pro or leave behind a golden opportunity for a shot at the LPGA Tour. Sure, maybe this was a little ahead of schedule, but Ree has always been talented. She grabbed the brass ring.
   Ree said she’d continue to take classes at Southern Cal, but she’ll have to work around the LPGA schedule. It’s been done before. It will be interesting to see how Ree handles the situation. It’s a tough loss for the Trojans, but everybody at a top-level program like Southern Cal understands that the LPGA Tour is the ultimate goal for a lot of the players they recruit.
   Perhaps the biggest feel-good story of Q-School belonged to the 22-year-old Torres, who was a key member of a Florida team that won the Southeast Conference title and a share of the team title at the NCAA Columbus Regional before reaching match play at Rich Harvest Farms. 
   Torres had to hustle around her native Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria to find an Internet connection so she could make the payment to get her into Stage II of Q-School. Like Ree, she kept her option open to retain her amateur status if she didn’t earn an LPGA Tour card.
   Torres struggled a little in the final round Sunday, carding a 2-over 74 that left her in a three-way tie for 20th with Daniela Darquea, a former Miami standout from Ecuador, and Mind Muangkhumsakul, an 18-year-old from Thailand.
   The three played a three-hole aggregate playoff and a birdie on the second hole gave Torres the edge and a full-time gig on the LPGA Tour in 2018. Players finishing 21st through 45th earn conditional status on the LPGA Tour.
   Torres’ effort to become the first Puerto Rican woman to earn an LPGA Tour card even caught the attention of the New York Times in a time when golf, let alone women’s golf, rarely makes the cut in most newspapers. And the way it ended for Torres, well you’d have to think it was meant to be. Her island needs all the hope it can get right now and Torres’ story will certainly offer that.
   Just a shot below Chan, Ree and Torres in qualifying at Rolling Green two summers ago, in a tie for 12th at 2-under 140, was Hataoka, then a 17-year-old. By the way, also in that group at Rolling Green was the eventual winner, Eun Jeong Seong, a then 16-year-old South Korean. It seems it’s just a matter of time before Seong takes her prodigious talent to the LPGA Tour.
   Hataoka advanced out of Q-School a year ago, but struggled in her rookie season. Still, her talent at Rolling Green was obvious. It showed again last week as she rattled off five sub-par rounds, capped by a 1-under 71 at the Hills Course that gave her a 12-under 348 total and the $5,000 winner’s check. I have a feeling her Q-School days are over.
   Another of the interesting stories of Q-School week was that of 27-year-old South African Paula Reto, a freshman on Purdue’s 2010 NCAA championship team. Reto has banked more than $500K in four years on the LPGA Tour, but a still undiagnosed health issue hampered her in 2017.
   Reto gutted it out at LPGA International, finishing up with a 1-under 71 to end up alone in third place, two shots behind Chan at 9-under 351.
   Give credit to the players who saved their best for last, moving into the top 20 on the strength of a solid final round at the Hills Course.
   Heading that list was 23-year-old Kassidy Teare, a former Long Beach State standout from San Diego. Teare fired a final round of 6-under 66 to finish tied for 10th at 5-under 355.
   Gemma Dryburgh, a 24-year-old from Scotland who played college golf at Tulane, had a 4-under 68 to get into a tie for 13th at 4-under 356.
   Brianna Do, a 27-year-old native of Vietnam who played at UCLA, also had a final-round 68 to get into the group tied for 16th at 3-under 357, a shot clear of that three-way playoff for 20th that Torres had to endure.
   Also at 3-under was Celine Herbin, a 35-year-old from France who didn’t turn pro until she was 30. Herbin fired a final round of 3-under 69. A little Google work revealed that Herbin played a year of college golf at Bucknell, of all places, as a French exchange student in 2003-’04.
   Daniela Holmqvist, a 29-year-old from Sweden, dropped a clutch putt on the 90th hole for a 2-under 70 that kept her out of the playoff for 20th.
   And Jessy Tang, a 28-year-old from Orlando, Fla., rounded out the foursome at 3-under 357 after a final round of 2-under 70. Tang, who has been a regular on the Symetra Tour since 2009, was a rookie on the LPGA Tour in 2017 and didn’t make a cut in eight starts. She’s about to get another shot at it.
   I did a post last month on the three Rolling Green Women’s Am alumni who finished among the top 10 in the Symetra Tour’s Volvik Race for the Card, Hannah Green, Celine Boutier and Katelyn Dambaugh. Add four more from Q-School and you start to understand the kind of talent that was on display in Delco just 16 months ago.

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