I am now a member of the LPGA Tour. Man, have I wanted to say that for a long time!
On December 4th, I finished T-21st at LPGA Q-School to receive a conditional card for the 2017 season. “Conditional” means I am lower on the pecking order of tournament sign-up priority than those with a "full” card. It also means that I can move up or down within my category (i.e. “reshuffle") based on my play.
Every player receives a priority number that determines their place in this pecking order. Mine is 156. There are 144 players in full field events, so you can see how close I will be to getting in. By my estimate, I should get into a minimum of 10-12 tournaments.
I am happy with my efforts last week. With the help of my new coach, Gabe Hjertstedt, and a whole lot of hours logged at the practice tee, every part of my game was feeling sharp. My swing is back to where it was last year: lots of fairways hit and consistent, solid iron play. Misses were very minimal. My wedge distance control was dialed. Most notably, I progressed from having the full on chipping yips this summer to chipping successfully with confidence last week. And finally, I switched putters three weeks ago and saw some huge improvements. I had just one three-putt in 90 holes, was about 95% from 5 feet and in, and saw three putts go in from outside of 50 feet.
Even with my game in shape, we all know that Q-school is a different beast. As my caddy Larry Smich put it, it was like I got through the week because "my will overcame all obstacles.” He also took to calling me Katniss from the Hunger Games, so apparently I had some ferocity about me :)
I knew that my four years of backing from the LLC is ending on Dec 31. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to stomach another year on the Symetra Tour without a single LPGA opportunity. I knew that I had done everything within my power to prepare, and that the only person who could get in my way was me. So, I decided to just go out and grab it.
This brings me to the final round. Here’s my timeline of the day:
4:15 AM: I wake up anxiously 15 minutes before my alarm. I putted tentatively the last two rounds, so I decided to reacquaint myself with my all-time favorite golf book: “Putting Out Of Your Mind” by Dr. Bob Rotella. In the chapter entitled, “Putting Under Pressure,” I read Dr. Bob's anecdote about Jim Carter (former PGA and current Champion’s Tour player, not the president). This name hadn’t stuck with me on previous reads, but it did this time because I have been working out with Jim at Exos for the past year. I took it as a good sign.
4:30 AM: I put down the book with two great thoughts in my head: 1) Trust your routine under pressure 2) Putt to make it!
7:25 AM: My stretching and physical prep felt good. Warm up felt good. Ready to do this!
7:30 AM: First drive down the middle of the fairway, but my heart has suddenly relocated from my chest into my throat.
7:33 AM: Tight first iron swing leaves me short-sided on the downslope of the front greenside bunker. I blade that over the green. Make a decent pass at the buried Bermuda lie, but leave that short of the green, too. Fluff that chip on to fifteen feet.
7:45 AM: I can’t feel my hands. Somehow the putt for double bogey drops. I hand my putter back to Larry and have to ask, “What did I just make there?” It feels like I blacked out.
7:50 AM: LOTS of deep breaths. Try to act normal and chit chat with Larry. I make a par on number two, but my heart doesn’t get out of my throat until I make a nice downhill four footer for par on the third.
8 AM: Back to just regular level of Q-School nerves, which kind of feels like walking down a dark alley at night. You’re not in a total panic, but your senses are on full alert, you jump at sudden movements, and you mutter a lot of reassurances to yourself.
9:25 AM: Roll in my first birdie of the day on the par-5 8th. New spring in my step.
9:30 AM: 9th hole. My playing partner pulls her second shot into a hazard short of the green. I determine the spot where I believe it last crossed into the hazard. Everyone in the group agrees... except for her outspoken caddy. He is adamant it crossed two yards right of the spot I have given, not coincidentally where she would have a clear shot at the green. Because the player doesn’t know where it went in, the rules official defers to the judgment of the fellow competitors.
9:35 AM: I birdie 9. Walking to the 10th tee, while only Larry and I can hear, the other caddy snaps at me, “That was a bullsh*t move, Maddie. I know you were trying to make my player drop where she didn’t have a shot.”
This could not be further from the truth. I gave my best judgment where it crossed with no thought to the shot she would or would not have to the green.
Larry retorts, “You better let it go. You already have a bad rap. Don’t make me call the official back over here.”
Other caddy: “Yeah well karma is going to come around and bite you in the a**.”
9:36 AM: Larry and I look at each other. We both know I did nothing wrong and that this particular caddy is known for his malicious antics. We decide we are going to let that go and not speak of it again until after the round.
10:05 AM: I drain a 50-footer from above the hole for another birdie on 10. Karma, I guess.
10:40 AM: Wind has picked up and is gusting hard. I make bogeys on 11 and 12.
11:45 AM: My goal everyday has been to birdie two of the last three holes. I’ve got a 30-foot slider for birdie on 16. One thought in my head: putt to make it! This putt hits the back of the cup with so much force it bounces straight up 6 inches before falling in. If it had missed, I could have been dropping out of the water hazard. Karma again, I guess.
12:30 PM: Two great swings, but settle for par on 17.
12:35 PM: An enormous scoreboard behind the 18th green clearly shows TOP 20 at -4. With gusty winds, the rest of the field still out there, and LPGA cards on the line, I thought I’d still have a chance at at least a playoff if could get to -3.
I hit driver, 9-iron to about six feet. Echoing in my head: “Trust your routine, putt to make it.” Major fist pump when the ball rolls in, dead center.
12:36 PM: Walk over to the other caddy with an outstretched hand for the usual post-round pleasantries. He completely rejects my handshake and storms off.
12:40 PM: The waiting game begins. Larry and I take a seat at the clubhouse and alternate between leaderboard refreshing and reviewing our year together.
Larry stuck by me as I missed cut after cut and my confidence was at an all-time low. Not many caddies would do that. I am beyond grateful to him for believing in me and not ditching out months ago for a better bag. My trust in him and his calm, veteran approach were integral to my late success.
3:00 PM: Results are all in. I’ve finished one shot short of a full card. I don’t hang my head for a second, though, because I knew I gave it all I had and that my conditional status is good enough for a lot of opportunities next year.
After four years of playing the Symetra Tour, my number one priority in 2017 is to play in as many LPGA events as possible. With that said, I plan on playing several Symetra Tour events in the early part of the year to keep tournament sharp. My first LPGA start could come as early as January or February in the Bahamas or Australia, but my first nearly-guaranteed start will be April 10-15 in Hawaii.
This is an exciting time. As one chapter of my career with my LLC comes to a close, I am now looking to begin new partnerships for my 2017 season on the big stage.
Thank you all for the texts, calls, and comments. I can’t wait to share the next step of the journey with you: working towards that first LPGA victory.
Links of interest:
- Larry’s far more hilarious blog about Q-School and our caddy altercation: https://lifeontour.wordpress.com/2016/12/05/q-school-finals-2016-round-5/
- Idaho Statesman story about my accomplishment: http://www.idahostatesman.com/sports/golf/article119036258.html
- 2017 LPGA Schedule: http://www.lpga.com/news/2017-lpga-schedule-announcement