2012 Rookies make debut at ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open

When many young girls take up the game of golf, they spend countless hours on the driving range, work relentlessly on their short games and endure painstaking workouts all in the hopes of one day fulfilling their dream of playing on the LPGA Tour. For a group of 13 rookies, this dream will become a reality when they tee-it up at this week’s ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.

 

Sandra Changkija: Hoisting a trophy has become one of this Nova Southeastern University golf standout’s favorite hobbies as she made her way to the winner’s circle an impressive 16-times in collegiate competition. After graduating from Nova Southeastern University, Changkija turned her attention to the professional golf ranks and played on the Symetra Tour, where she recorded a career-best tie for fifth at the 2011 Vidalia Championship. The biggest strength of her game is her ball striking, while she noted the biggest weakness is her short game. When the pressure is on look for her to turn to a wedge shot from 80 to 100 yards.

If you need a chef, turn to Changkija as she lists cooking as one of her hobbies outside of golf. The best travel tip she would give is to keep your golf bag at 49.5 pounds. She lists going to Hawaii and being named a four-time NCAA Division II Player of the Year as the coolest things she has done in her life.

 

Cydney Clanton: When Clanton traded in her basketball for a golf ball, she set her sights on playing on the LPGA Tour, and after a tie for ninth at the 2011 Final Qualifying Tournament, that is just what she did. Clanton played collegiate golf at Auburn University where she recorded two wins and was named a two-time NGCA First Team All-American before she turned her attention to the Symetra Tour. Last season on the LPGA’s developmental tour, Clanton notched two top-10 finishes including a career-best tie for seventh at the Eagle Classic in Richmond, Va. Clanton’s biggest strength is her ball striking while she admits her short game could use more work. Under pressure, Clanton turns to her trusty punch shot to get the job done.

If there is a rain delay this season don’t be surprised to see Clanton coloring or watching movies as she lists these as a few of her hobbies outside of golf. If Clanton didn’t choose the LPGA as a way to make a living she would have liked to become a school teacher.

 

Kathleen Ekey: Looking to maintain momentum coming off a stellar year on the Symetra Tour where she captured seven top-10 finishes including two victories, Ekey paved her way on The Road to the LPGA by finishing atop the season-ending J Golf Race for the Card standings. Prior to joining the Symetra Tour in 2009, Ekey played her collegiate golf at the University of Alabama where she notched two wins in collegiate competition and was named a two-time All-Southeastern Conference First Team selection. Like many of her peers, Ekey’s biggest strength of her game is her ball striking and admits her short game can always get better. The three quarter punch shot or “chippy seven” as Ekey refers to it, is her go-to shot under pressure.

Always there to lend a helping hand, Ekey enjoys volunteering her time working with kids. An avid dancer before she picked up golf, Ekey would want to be on Dancing with the Stars if she could be on any television show. Follow her on twitter at, @KTEkey.

 

Numa Gulyanamitta: Gulyanamitta might be playing in her first tournament as a professional but if the 2011 LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament is any indication as to how her rookie season will play out, she will be just fine. Following an impressive collegiate golf career at Purdue University – where she helped her team win the 2010 NCAA Women’s Golf Championship – Gulyanamitta won the 2011 LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament by two-strokes to secure her 2012 LPGA Tour card.

As Gulyanamitta’s golf career begins to take off she has her sights set on being in Forbes magazine. If she could be on any television show it would be Ellen because she thinks it would be interesting to spend time with her. Follow Gulyanamitta on Twitter at, @NumiGuly.

 

Stephanie Kono: This University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Bruin played flawless golf at the 2011 LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament where she finished tied for ninth to secure her LPGA Tour card for the 2012 season. While at UCLA, Kono recorded four collegiate victories and was a three-time First Team All-American selection. She was also a member of the 2010 U.S. Curtis Cup Team and competed in three U.S. Women’s Opens as an amateur. Kono’s biggest strength of her game is her iron play while she acknowledges her biggest weakness is her driver. If Kono is under pressure on the 18th hole on Sunday look for her to hit a small draw as that is her go-to shot under pressure.

Kono’s passport is destined to fill up in no time as she lists traveling as one of her hobbies and the coolest thing she has been able to do in her life. Besides golf, Kono has a passion for fashion and would have wanted to be in the fashion industry if she didn’t choose the LPGA as a way to make a living. Follow Kono on Twitter at, @stephaniekono.

 

Rebecca Lee-Bentham: Oh Canada! This Canadian dominated the amateur golf ranks in Canada notching victories at the 2010 Canadian Junior Girls Championship and the 2011 Canadian Women’s Amateur Championship. She qualified for the LPGA Tour on her first attempt after a tie for ninth at the 2011 LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament. Lee-Bentham’s go-to shot under pressure is a full swing with her gap wedge.

American Idol watch out, if Lee-Bentham didn’t choose the LPGA as a way to make a living she would have wanted to become a singer, even though she admits she isn’t very good. She lists going in a submarine and seeing sharks in the ocean as one of the coolest things she has been able to do in her life. If Lee-Bentham could have one day to anything she’d like, she would feed people in starving countries. Follow Lee-Bentham on Twitter at, @RLeeBentham.

 

Mo Martin: This California native is no stranger to the professional golf ranks. Martin was a member of the Symetra Tour from 2006-2011 where she notched victories at the 2007 El Paso Golf Classic, 2008 USI Championship and 2011 Eagle Classic. Prior to turning professional, Martin attended UCLA where she recorded seven top-20 finishes and was a member of the winning 2004 NCAA Women’s Golf Championship team. Martin finished third on the 2011 J Golf Race for the Card to secure her LPGA Tour card for the 2012 season. Martin’s biggest strength of her game is hitting it straight and hitting greens and she loves to get creative on the course.

An animal lover, Martin lists rescuing and adopting animals as some of her interests outside of golf and would have liked to become a veterinarian or marine biologist if she didn’t choose the LPGA as a way to make a living. If Martin had one day to do anything she would like, she would choose spending it with her grandfather, Lincoln Martin.

 

Sydnee Michaels: Another University of California (UCLA) Bruin alumni in this year’s rookie class, Michaels notched two victories in collegiate competition and was a two-time NGCA All-American Second Team selection. After college, Michaels turned her attention to the Symetra Tour where she notched wins at the 2011 Vidalia Championship and 2011 Price Chopper Tour Championship. She went on to be named the 2011 Gaelle Truet Rookie of the Year and finished fourth on the J Golf Race for the Card to earn her LPGA Tour card for the 2012 season. The biggest strength of Michaels’ game is sticking to what works for her even though it might be unconventional.

Michaels’ passions outside of golf include dancing, the performing arts and music and if she could be on any television show it would be Dancing with the Stars. If Michaels didn’t choose the LPGA as a way to make a living, she would have put her creative talents to use and been a writer, dancer, actor or musician. Follow Michaels on Twitter at, @SydneeMichaels.

 

Jane Rah: After playing on the Symetra Tour for two years and narrowly landing outside the top-10 on the 2010 J Golf Race for the Card, now is finally Rah’s time to live out her lifelong dream. Rah competed on the Symetra from 2010-2011 where she recorded 14 top-10 finishes including a career-best second at the 2010 Florida’s Natural Charity Classic. She earned her 2012 LPGA Tour card by finishing fifth on the Symetra Tour’s 2011 J Golf Race for the Card money list. The biggest strength of Rah’s game is her consistency and under pressure, look for her to turn to anything with a draw.

Rah will fit right in when there is a rain delay on the LPGA Tour as she lists playing cards as one of her hobbies outside of golf. If Rah had one day to do anything she’d like she would sit on the couch and have a Millionaire Matchmaker marathon. If she didn’t choose the LPGA as a way to make a living she would have her own sports talk show.

 

So Yeon Ryu: One of two rookies this season who have already earned an LPGA victory, Ryu defeated last year’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Hee Kyung Seo in a three-hole playoff to win the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open. Ryu has been a member of the LPGA of Korea (KLPGA) since 2008 where she recorded seven victories. Prior to turning professional, she was a member of the Korean National Golf Team from 2005-2007 and won a gold medal for Korea, both in individual and team events, in the 2006 Asian Games.

Ryu began playing golf when she picked-up the game in second grade as part of her school’s extra-curricular activity. A talented musician, Ryu became an avid violinist at a young age and still remains passionate about music.

 

Victoria Tanco: Tanco bypassed college to turn professional and after a tie for 15th at the 2011 LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament, she earned her LPGA Tour card for the 2012 season. Despite not having any professional golf experience, Tanco boasts an impressive junior golf resume. She earned victories at the 2009 AJGA Rolex Tournament of Champions, 2010 AJGA Annika Invitational, 2011 Western Amateur Championship and was named the AJGA Rolex Player of the Year in 2008 and 2009. Tanco lists her consistency and her never give-up attitude as the strengths of her game while putting is her weakness.

If you are looking to start a game of UNO cards, pick Tanco for your team. She lists the card game as one of her hobbies and her greatest passion outside of golf. If she didn’t choose the LPGA as a way to make a living, she would have been a psychologist because she likes to hear people and help them with their problems. Follow Tanco on Twitter at, @victoriatanco1.

 

Lexi Thompson: Don’t let Thompson’s resume fool you, she really is just a rookie on the LPGA Tour. Already with one LPGA Tour victory under her belt at the 2011 Navistar LPGA Classic where she became the youngest winner in LPGA Tour history at 16 years, 8 months and 8 days, Thompson also finished tied for second at the Evian Masters Presented by Société Générale in 2010. She also won the 2011 OMEGA Dubai Ladies Masters Championship on the Ladies European Tour (LET) to become the second youngest professional to win on the LET.

Golfing is in Thompson’s blood as her older Nicholas plays on the PGA and Nationwide Tours and her other brother Curtis plays on Louisiana State University’s (LSU) golf team.

 

Hannah Yun: Yun turned to the Symetra Tour to begin her professional golf career where she recorded five top-10 finishes since 2008 including a career best tie for fourth at the 2009 Falls Auto Group Classic. Yun played collegiate golf at the University of Florida where she was named a 2008 SEC All-Conference First Team selection, 2008 NGCA All-American Honorable Mention selection and 2008 Golfweek First Team selection.

If someone goes zooming past you on the highway don’t be surprised if it’s Yun. She lists cars, particularly European sports cars, as her hobby outside of golf and would even like to learn how to race. If she could have one day to anything she’d like, she would go on a fun and daring adventure with her best friend. Follow Yun on Twitter at, @HannaYunGolf.

Topics: ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open, Rookie

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