CONCORD, N.H., July 24, 2011 - She doesn't like the expression "paid my dues," but Canadian Jessica Shepley might agree that today, she cashed in a lot of highway miles, sweat and tears to win her first tournament in the United States at The International at Concord.
After six full seasons on the LPGA Futures Tour and four events in 2011, playing both the LPGA and Futures Tour, Shepley put together rounds of 67-70-66 this week to post a 13-under finish of 203 at Beaver Meadow Golf Course.
"This is what I came here to do this week," said Shepley, 28, of Oakville, Ontario. "For so long, everybody has said, 'be patient, be patient,' and there have been times when I doubted. But I guess it doesn't matter how you start anything - it's how you finish."
Shepley certainly didn't win the tournament in walk-away fashion. First, she had to battle 100-degree temperatures in the first round and mid-90-degree heat on Saturday. Today, the heat came from third-year pro Lauren Doughtie, who played in front of Shepley and tied the Canadian for the lead with three holes to play.
Doughtie picked this week to post her career-best runner-up finish with rounds of 71-67-66 and a 12-under total of 204.
Tied for the lead with Doughtie and with her heart pounding as she walked down the 18th fairway today, Shepley hammered her drive and knew she'd better grip down a half gap wedge some 88 yards into the green. Her approach landed 10 feet from the cup.
"It looked more like 40 feet," she said. "I was shaking so badly while I was trying to line up my putt that I finally told myself to just trust it. I hit it and two feet from the hole, I could see it was totally in."
Her ball found its mark and after a bogey-free round that included five birdies on the front nine and the single birdie on the final hole, Shepley fist-pumped multiple times as she raced to pluck the ball out of the hole. With that long-awaited win finally in her hands and the winning scorecard staring her in the face, Shepley put her head down on the scoring table and shed tears of joy.
"I feel like everything is a process and you have to build a foundation," said Shepley, who used her old University of Tennessee carry bag this week. "I've always felt like I had to win out here because I've wanted to win at every level."
A winner of Canadian amateur events, as well as the 2009 Canadian PGA Women's Championship and two CN Canadian Women's Tour events, Shepley has long been one of Canada's top young players. Stateside, wins have taken longer.
She has worked with teachers and fellow Canadians Sean Foley and Annie Mallory, who have tweaked her swing to match her athleticism. She has read books, sought advice and more than once, wondered when her week would finally arrive?
A tall, powerful woman from a family of hockey players, Shepley's expectations over the years sometimes didn't match her results. But her results today didn't surprise her fellow peers.
"I played with her yesterday and today, and what I saw her do out here is nothing I haven't seen her do before," said Mo Martin (70) of Altadena, Calif., who tied for third with Misun Cho (71) of Cheongju, South Korea at 8-under 208. "When putts go in, you win."
Doughtie carded six birdies in her bogey-free round and posted only one bogey in 54 holes en route to her first top-10 finish on the LPGA Futures Tour. Standing adjacent to the 18th green watching Shepley stare down her last putt, Doughtie could only wait.
"I figured she'd make that putt because Jessica's a great player," said Doughtie of Suffolk, Va., who hit 15 greens in regulation today.
A lot of things changed when the Canadian's ball found the bottom of the cup. She put $14,000 in her pocket, she moved from No. 112 on the Futures Tour's season money list to No. 20, and she finally shook off the question of when she would finally win stateside.
In clothes soaked from a celebratory beer bath showered upon her by fellow pros, Shepley waved off her pals and said she would see them later. First, she planned to go toast this special day with the locals on the patio of tiny Beaver Meadow.
After all, this week had been more than six years in the making and Shepley knew better than to let another moment slip by.
For scores and more information, visit www.lpgafuturestour.com.
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