After my last blog, there were four events remaining and I was sitting at approximately 18th on the money list. With the end of the season drawing near and that magic top ten number in my sights, I needed just one great week to earn my LPGA Tour Card.
I played very well in the fourth to last event in Garden City, KS in strong winds for a top-5 finish (74-69-70; T-4th). I might not have gotten to contend for a national title while playing at the University of Nebraska, but I swear those four years of learning to play in the wind were worth far more down the road! My head was in a great place, my putter was hot, and I managed my way around the course well on my own.
The next week in El Dorado, AR caught me by surprise. The Murphy USA El Doardo Shootout was a new event. I had never been to Arkansas or heard of Mystic Creek Golf Club, and I went into the week assuming it would be like every other small town tournament on the Symetra Tour: a straightforward golf course, mediocre green speeds, shouldn’t be a problem. As they say in the South, “Well, bless your heart,” because I could not have been more wrong. As it turns out, Mystic Creek is like Augusta National’s cousin (albeit a distant one who accepts female golfers). It was an absolutely phenomenal track, but I think I speak for the entire tour when I say we were unprepared for its challenges. The greens were lightening fast and the green complexes so undulated and difficult that relying on the classic “When in doubt, hit to the middle of the green” play could leave you a 40-foot putt that you’d have to start with your back to the hole. Players were putting off the green, chipping two or three times, and withdrawing left and right. If it sounds like a hot mess, that’s because it was. I was again without a caddy, and I desperately missed the help with the hilly terrain, mapping out the course, and a second voice to keep me sane out there. I shot 77-77-77 to finish 60th… so if golf was slots, I would have been really lucky? It was no surprise to me when a player who had spent the full season playing comparable conditions on the LPGA ended up champion and the only person under par for the week.
Arkansas marked the end of a five-week stretch on the road, and I flew back to Arizona for the week off. I took a quick break to celebrate my 26th birthday, but then was right back into gearing up for the final two tournaments.
The season’s penultimate event, the IOA Classic at Alaqua CC in Longwood, FL, was one of my most memorable weeks of the year. I shot 70 (-1) in round one followed by a career best 63 (-8) in round two! A lot of people have asked what it felt like, and the answer is, honestly, it felt surprisingly natural. I was hitting the ball solid, but not throwing darts at every pin. I was just always in position off of the tee, got the ball somewhere on the green, and then made it rain! I chipped in for eagle, hit a couple shots close for easy birds, made several putts in the 15-20 foot range, and dropped one long bomb from about 45 feet. I hired experienced tour caddy and Florida native Jorge Olguin for the last two tournaments, and his Bermuda green reading expertise gave just the assistance and confidence I needed. It didn’t feel at all like an out of body experience or like the world moved in slow motion… everything in my game just came together at the same time. When visualizing rounds before I play, I see myself making birdie on every hole and imagine in detail how this would feel. I believe this visualization practice helped me remain calm as I got further and further under par. I had one hiccup on my 17th hole when I let my mind wander while cleaning up a 4-footer for par, thereby costing me my only bogey of the day. However, I bounced back with two great shots on the water-lined final hole and walked away with a new personal best and the tournament lead :)
Sunday in Longwood was by far my most difficult test of the year. For the first time ever, I was sleeping on a one shot lead, backing up my best round of all time, and a win would just about lock up my LPGA Tour Card. Of course I was going to be nervous, but like I’ve said before, chasing that nervous excitement is my goal. My plan was to stay present over each shot, trust that I was playing well, and play like I had nothing to lose. Long story short…I didn’t do those things. I popped one OB right on my third hole, took a double, and battled just to stay close to par from there in. I never gave up, but I never completely got out of my own way either. The score at the end of the day was 74 (+3) and a T-13th finish.
One of my favorite sayings goes, “Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.” Letting that golden opportunity slip through my fingers was painful, but there was no benefit in wallowing in the disappointment. I didn’t win, so I had to learn. I should have been more specific with my pre-shot routine objectives in order to keep my mind on what I could control. I know now exactly what I would have done differently, and I have since been practicing with these specific objectives in mind so I am ready when the next golden opportunity comes around.
The Symetra Tour Championship started four days later just up the road in Daytona Beach. I shot 73-71-67-71 (-6) for a T-14th finish. I was playing good golf, but in order to make the move into the top-10, I needed great golf. I could nitpick about these rounds, but at this point it feels like splitting hairs.
I wound up #17 on the final money list; $8,460 short of the top ten. I am really not hanging my head on this final result. I am truly proud of the way I played this year. I earned a victory, had four top-10s, finished in the top-20 38% of the time, and dropped my scoring average by almost a full shot per round. I worked hard and gave my absolute all from the beginning of the season to the very end. I grew immensely as a player and person. The Symetra Tour is fiercely competitive, and there were nine of us tournament winners who didn’t earn our cards. I am ready for the LPGA Tour, I just have to wait until Q-school to get there.
…which brings me to what I have been up to lately. By finishing in the top-25 on the money list, I was exempt through Stage II of Q-school for the first time ever! This was a huge relief and accomplishment. I am skipping directly to Stage III of LPGA Qualifying School played December 2-6 at LPGA International in Daytona Beach. There will be approximately 150 players in the field. The top-20 finishers after five rounds will earn full 2016 LPGA status, and finishers 21-45 will earn conditional status.
I took ten days away from golf after the Tour Championship and have since gotten back into training. I have complete confidence that I have what it takes to earn my tour card in December, especially after my solid play at LPGA International during the Tour Championship. The only way to get tournament ready is to play tournament golf, so I played the Arizona Women’s Open last week (71-75-74, T-8th), and will play another mini-tour event at LPGA International this week. I am so excited and grateful to have this opportunity ahead!
My success and growth this year has so much to do with the support I receive. I can never say thank you enough to the investors of MS, LLC who have believed in me faithfully for the last three years. I was thrilled to welcome Aromaflage and Bette & Court to my team early this year, and they have provided great support. I am continually grateful to Mike Pinkey, Terry Rowles, and Eric Dannenberg for their coaching expertise. Thank you also to every host family, pro-am partner, and friend who offered encouragement along the way. Golf really isn’t the individual sport it appears to be. THANK YOU to each and every one of you!