Article Courtesy of Duramed FUTURES Tour
Albany, N.Y., September 6, 2009 - Maybe somewhere deep in her mind as she stood over her last putt in today's final round of the $110,000 ILOVENY Championship, Song Yi Choi felt a little closer to redemption.
Redemption that this year, she would not be denied the chance to secure a top-five 2010 LPGA Tour card. And finally, redemption on the Capital Hills at Albany course where she was knocked out of the top five last year to finish sixth on the season money list, just out of the full-status LPGA cards.
Choi stood over her five-footer for par on the 18th hole today knowing that she needed to make the putt to avoid a playoff. With one determined stroke, the South Korean drained the putt to win her first professional tournament in the United States.
"I knew I had to make it, but I told myself, 'No thinking. Just hit it,'" said Choi, who carded rounds of 67-68-70 to win by one stroke at 205 (-8) and collect a prize check of $15,400.
Choi edged Libby Smith (68) of Essex Junction, Vt., who finished second at 206 (-7).
Six players tied for third at 207 (-6). They were: Alison Walshe (65) of Westford, Mass.; Samantha Richdale (68) of Kelowna, British Columbia; Liz Janangelo (69) of West Hartford, Conn.; Mo Martin (70) of Altadena, Calif.; and three-time season winner Mina Harigae (70) of Monterey, Calif.
Statistically, Choi had to win to crack the top five. And she spent the entire final round trading leads with different players until she finally birdied the 16th hole from 10 feet, made it through the difficult 17th hole, and saved par from five feet to close the deal on her first win.
The win at the Tour's season-ending tournament in a 17-event schedule enabled Choi to jump from 11th place to fifth place, bumping No. 5 Whitney Wade of Glasgow, Ky., into sixth place.
"Last year, I was not as happy as now," said Choi, of Seoul, South Korea. "This year is unbelievable. I will go to the LPGA next year and there will be a lot of changes in my life."
Choi's win came in a Duramed FUTURES Tour tournament that was sandwiched in between two LPGA events for the South Korean. Last week, she played in the LPGA tournament in Portland, Ore., and next week, she will again tee it up with the LPGA in Arkansas.
But while the bouncing back and forth between the two tours certainly has been less than ideal for Choi, it has served to make her tougher. And today, when she had the chance to redeem herself, she did.
"Song Yi closed it out when she needed to," said Smith, a 2006 LPGA Tour member, who posted her career-best finish today in five professional seasons on either the LPGA or Duramed FUTURES Tour. "She's a great player."
Smith got off to a rough start with a three-putt bogey on the second hole and three bogeys on her first six holes. But the long-hitting former University of Vermont basketball star carded an eagle-3 on the par-five eighth hole when she stroked a 235-yard 4-wood to 25 feet, and then rolled in the eagle putt.
"That changed everything and that really got things rolling," said Smith.
The Vermonter rolled in birdies on holes 10, 11 and 13, stumbled briefly with a bogey on the 15th when she didn't get up and down for par from 10 feet, and then birdied the 16th hole from eight feet and the final hole from 12 feet to put the pressure on Choi.
"I was six under on my last 12 holes and my goal was to be the leader in the clubhouse when I finished," said Smith. "I didn't give up. I fought hard. I put myself exactly where I needed to be."
Earlier in the day, Mo Martin grabbed the lead when she rolled in a birdie on the ninth hole. Even with a bogey on the 11th, Martin still held a share of the lead, but another bogey on the 14th hole knocked her off pace. The Californian closed at one-under-par 70.
"You can always think about the putts that could have dropped, but when it's your day, it's your day," said the two-time Tour winner. "I had three days under par, so I can't be too unhappy with my week."
Playing in the same final group, Harigae and Choi traded the lead several times in today's round. Harigae grabbed the lead through 11 holes and Choi drew even with a birdie on the 12th, but when Choi bogeyed No. 14, Harigae moved ahead and held the lead through 15 holes. Harigae bogeyed No. 16, where Choi birdied, but when Harigae stumbled with a second bogey on the tricky 17th hole, lipping out a 20-foot par putt, Choi snatched the lead and held on for dear life.
"I knew where I stood after the 15th hole and I was playing well, but I just made two mistakes on Nos. 16 and 17," said Harigae, who only hit 12 greens and nine fairways in regulation today.
Richdale also made a run for it today, rolling in a birdie on the 14th hole to jump into a tie for the lead at seven under, but she bogeyed the 17th and wasn't able to convert for birdie on the last hole to put pressure on Choi.
Today's low round belonged to Walshe, who carded seven birdies and one bogey, with four birdies on her last seven holes.
"To be honest, I thought I was out of it," said rookie Walshe, who hit 15 greens in regulation and needed only 27 putts today. "I went out there with no expectations. To finish in the top-10 [on the money list] is nice, but the top-five is the goal. I just wanted to finish strong."
Unfortunately, Wade learned today what Choi experienced here in 2008. She slipped from No. 5 to No. 6 in the last tournament of the year on the rolling
6,124-yard, par-71 course that was laden with punitive rough. Wade's scorecard was decorated with three birdies, five bogeys and a double-bogey-5 on the par-three 18th hole. Worse yet, the usually precise-hitting player found only six greens in regulation and was one-for-four in par saves from the bunkers.
"I'm having issues with my driver," said Wade, who won earlier this summer. "I never got anything started and it just got worse. I had some costly bogeys and everything just fell apart on the back nine. Unless I could shoot five or six under, there wasn't much I could do."
And what was Wade's misfortune, was Choi's redemption.
Another Duramed FUTURES Tour season ended today at the ILOVENY Championship presented by SEFCU, allowing top-ranked Harigae to finish on the top of the 2009 money list with earnings of $88,386 to garner honors as both Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year.
Players filling out the top five were: No. 2. Jean Reynolds of Newnan, Ga., $76,647; 3. Misun Cho of Cheongju, South Korea, $64,118; 4. Samantha Richdale of Kelowna, British Columbia, $59,292; 5. Song Yi Choi of Seoul, South Korea, $42,939.
Players completing the top 10: No. 6. Whitney Wade of Glasgow, Ky., $41,393; 7. Angela Buzminski of Oshawa, Ontario, $37,048; 8. Christine Song of Fullerton, Calif., $35,130; 9. Alison Walshe of Westford, Mass., $34,225; and 10. Dewi Claire Schreefel of Diepenveen, Netherlands, $30,600.
Skipping over players who already have LPGA membership, the following Duramed FUTURES Tour players earned automatic entry into the LPGA's Final Qualifying Tournament, skipping the sectional qualifiers: No. 11. Pernilla Lindberg of Bollnas, Sweden; 12. Gerina Mendoza of Roswell, N.M.; 13. Danah Ford of Indianapolis; 15. Lisa Meldrum of Montreal, Quebec; 16. Jenny Suh of Fairfax, Va.; and 18. Liz Janangelo of West Hartford, Conn.
For scores and more information, visit duramedfuturestour.com.