Mina Harigae Grabs Third Season Victory In Kentucky
Article Courtesy of Duramed FUTURES Tour
LONDON, Ky., August 9, 2009 --- Californian Mina Harigae has a thing for Kentucky Bluegrass. In her two trips to the land of fine horses and mint juleps, she has come away victorious in golf.
On the first trip in 2007, she won the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship in Lexington. Today, she added her second win the Bluegrass State and her third season win on the Duramed FUTURES Tour at the $100,000 Falls Auto Group Classic. The rookie professional carded rounds of 68-66-71 to win at 11-under-par 205 at Crooked Creek Golf Community.
That was two shots better than former Duke University teammate Amanda Blumenherst (70) of Scottsdale, Ariz., who birdied her last three holes to finish at 207 (-9).
"I have good vibes here because it's so pretty and the people are awesome," said Harigae, 19, of Monterey, Calif. "I went to a family's house and we played basketball and a game called 'Cornhole' and I got to pet and feed their horses. I like it here in the Bluegrass State."
That was pretty obvious today when Harigae started the round with a three-shot lead and never looked back. Players rose and fell on the leaderboard, but Harigae, who carded three birdies and two bogeys, plodded along making few mistakes, and became the Tour's first three-tournament winner in 2009. The teen's $14,000 winner's check shot her to the top of the season money list with earnings of $73,897. She also took a commanding lead for top rookie honors.
"She really is a very solid player," said fellow rookie Blumenherst, a four-time All-American at Duke who was paired with Harigae in today's final round. "She's a great putter and she's consistent. It was going to take some work to beat her."
But try as they might, nobody could.
Rookie Pernilla Lindberg of Bollnas, Sweden - who joined the Tour this spring following her senior season at Oklahoma State University - tossed a 6-under 66 on the leaderboard in today's final round to charge from a tie for 18th into third place at 208 (-8).
Fifth-ranked Samantha Richdale of Kelowna, British Columbia produced the hottest round on a sticky-hot day with her final-round score of 8-under 64 to charge from a tie for 39th into a tie for fourth place with Hannah Yun (69) of Bradenton, Fla., Yoora Kim (70) of Seoul, South Korea, and Gerina Mendoza (72) of Roswell, N.M., all finishing at 209 (-7).
But Harigae, who was "all chilled out" after taking off last week and flying home to California to go hiking because she felt herself getting burned out, sat in a golf cart this afternoon following the awards ceremony. She scanned the rolling hills surrounding the 6,360-yard course with scenic elevation changes and just enough creeks and ponds to keep a golfer humble. And she finally flashed a relaxed smile.
"I can't believe I just won this tournament," she said. "I was on a cliff last week hiking in Big Sur, and now here I am in London, Kentucky."
Teenagers in golf often don't make the kinds of decisions that Harigae has already made, but she has proven that she can make her own choices, even if they aren't always popular decisions. Nearly a year ago this time, for example, the west-coast teen had made the decision to go to college at an east-coast school to play golf.
A women's college powerhouse with five NCAA Championships, Duke welcomed the young California junior superstar. But after less than a semester, Harigae decided to leave college and turn professional. It left her team, on which Blumenherst was a senior, short-handed and often struggling to achieve the kind of results it was used to having with blue-chip players. Because of player injuries and Harigae's unexpected early departure, Duke narrowly qualified for last spring's NCAA Championship and fell short of winning.
So Harigae probably wasn't feeling a warm-and-fuzzy reunion when she found herself paired with now-graduated Blumenherst at The Duramed Championship in June. Once again today, they were in the same pairing.
"The first time we were paired together was a little awkward," admitted Harigae. "To leave school and turn professional has been an experiment, but a good experiment for me. I guess I wanted to prove to everybody that I could do this - that I'm ready. Honestly, when I'm playing out there, I don't feel like I'm 19 years old."
A second big decision for Harigae came three tournaments ago in Concord, N.H. She noticed that she didn't want to practice and that she wasn't excited to play. Most teens would have played on, but Harigae, who was No. 3 on the Tour's money list at the time, took a chance and skipped the Tour's tournament in Syracuse, N.Y. It was a gutsy gamble at a critical time of the season when players are pressing and grinding to climb or stay on top of the money list. But Harigae knew what she needed to do and trusted her gut.
"Of course I had some fear about that," she said. "I thought, 'What if I drop down the money list?' But then I thought that it would be much more beneficial for me to go home, take some time off, and come back refreshed. I've seen some players just running on fumes out here and I didn't want to play like that."
Truthfully, the only fumes in Harigae's game this week were what everybody behind her was breathing. Some came fairly close to catching her at the Tour's second annual visit to Eastern Kentucky.
A 2009 tournament winner, Richdale hit every green and every fairway in regulation today en route to her career-low round of 64. She carded six birdies and an eagle-2 on the final 514-yard par-5 hole, where she laced a 3-wood 228 yards to 15 feet and drained her eagle putt.
"I was hoping I would shoot something good today," said Richdale, who also won in 2008. "I'm pretty happy with this."
Lindberg, still hoping to earn her first professional win, recorded five birdies, one bogey, two par saves on her last five holes and her own eagle-2 on the 18th hole - also hitting a 3-wood from 220 yards out to set up her 15-foot putt for eagle.
"Making that putt on 18 felt great," said Lindberg, who finished 3rd individually at the 2009 NCAA Women's Golf Championship. "And what I've learned out here this year is if you go out and attack the pins on Sunday, you can make a move."
Even Blumenherst, the 2008 U.S. Women's Amateur champion, a two-time U.S. Curtis Cup team member and a 12-time winner at Duke, was trying to make her own move at the Tour's 14th (of 17) tournament. Normally deadly with a putter in her hands, Blumenherst recorded 34 putts today after hitting 17 greens in regulation. She took an uncharacteristic bogey on the 12th hole with four putts from 35 feet.
"I'm not sure why, but some little butterflies were going today," she said. "I was hitting the ball well, but the putts weren't falling and I was getting anxious to make some. But I know that things happen in golf. And I also know that champions are the ones who rebound the best."
With birdies on her last three holes and a three-foot birdie on the 18th to take sole possession of second, Blumenherst earned her best professional finish.
And like her former college teammate whom nobody could catch, this week's scoreboard gave LPGA Tour veteran Missie Berteotti, who was in the field, and current LPGA Tour member Leah Wigger, a Duramed FUTURES Tour alum from Louisville, Ky., who came to watch the final round, a glimpse of the LPGA's future. Teens and recent college grads were making some noise in these hills of Eastern Kentucky.
And for Harigae, it was no California dreaming today - just some good vibes on bluegrass and a little more green in her pocket.
This year's second annual Falls Auto Group Classic was presented by the law offices of Howard O. Mann, P.S.C. For scores and more information, visit duramedfuturestour.com.