Kathleen Ekey joined an elite group when she finished as Player of the Year on the 2011 LPGA Futures Tour. She moves alongside other former top Futures Tour money winners, such as Vicky Hurst, Song-Hee Kim, Cindy LaCrosse and Mina Harigae, as she moves on to the LPGA Tour next season as a Futures Tour “graduate.”
Ekey, 24, of Sharon Township, Ohio, had seven top-10 finishes, including two wins, in 16 tournaments this year. The third-year professional and graduate of the University of Alabama led the LPGA Futures Tour this season in earnings ($66,412), birdies (153 in 44 rounds), sub-par holes (158), greens in regulation (81 percent) and eagles (five).
Here’s what Ekey has to say about her career-best professional season and her thoughts about heading to the LPGA in 2012:
LPGA: How would you describe your 2011 season?
EKEY: I did what I needed to do to get where I wanted to go. I grew a lot this year and that’s what the Futures Tour is all about. I think I have a lot to build upon for next year.
LPGA: Were you surprised to finish as the Futures Tour’s 2011 Player of the Year?
EKEY: I think it’s a function of getting myself to believe I could play well and earn my LPGA card. My turning point was at the tournament in Daytona Beach [Fla.] this year when my grandmother died. I wanted to win that tournament and when I didn’t, I was upset. That’s when my mom reminded me my focus should not be on just one tournament, but rather, on the whole season. That sharpened my focus a little bit. And then when I won again in Syracuse, I started thinking that I liked being in the No. 1 position on the money list and that I wanted to stay there.
LPGA: How do you feel about earning your LPGA card for 2012?
EKEY: I’m excited, but I still have some work to do. I always work really hard in the off-season so my golf swing will hold up throughout the year and I plan to spend a lot of time working with my coaches, V.J. Trolio and Tim Yelverton, in Mississippi this winter.
LPGA: When the top-10 Futures Tour players earn their cards, they get giant replicas of their LPGA Tour card. Do you still have your big card?
EKEY: Of course! My card is in my parents’ bedroom and my Player of the Year trophy is at their house on the mantle. The first thing I do every morning when I wake up is go downstairs to see my parents and that card is the first thing I see. It’s neat that not only did I earn my card, but I was also No. 1.
LPGA: How will you prepare for 2012?
EKEY: I will continue working on my swing because I know I can play better. I’m also going to have some time to dedicate to my fitness. I like to run and do Pilates and yoga, so I’ll do everything I can do to feel ready to go when the LPGA starts up next spring.
LPGA: What were the biggest challenges in earning your LPGA card on the Futures Tour?
EKEY: It’s hard out there! Sometimes it feels like it just sits on top of you, that you have to be so good. The money list is top-heavy, and I remember that in the first four tournaments, I finished in the top 25, but I kept going down the money list. I knew I had to stay patient and that I was playing good golf, and I learned that you can’t pay attention to the money list. Even after I won twice, I knew I still had to keep playing well, stick to my process and not get ahead of myself. Lisa Ferrero and I went back and forth at No. 1 for weeks. I wanted to be No. 1, and then I wanted to stay No. 1. That was a good lesson for me – staying in the present. By focusing on my routine, it let me focus on my process, rather than focusing on the outcome. In other words, I learned to focus more on what I wanted to do than on what was going to happen.
LPGA: Have you set any goals yet for the LPGA Tour?
EKEY: I know how good everyone is out there, but I want to compete and win. Playing well as a rookie is important to me. I saw my peers – Tiffany Jo and Ryann [O’Toole] -- do that this year. They were able to go out there and take a little opportunity and turn it into something. Tiffany finished second in a tournament and Ryann was named to the U.S. Solheim Cup team. So watching that, I need to expect myself to go out there and play well and maybe get in the mix for the rookie race.
LPGA: I you weren’t a golfer, what else would you want to do?
EKEY: Maybe go to law school or become a sports broadcaster.
LPGA: Everybody knows you can play golf, but do you have any hidden talents?
EKEY: Growing up, I played a lot of different sports and was involved in dance since age 3. In elementary school, I ice skated before school, played the violin at school and on Saturdays, did ballet after school, and gymnastics from 5:30-9:30 p.m. I was a busy little kid! I did my homework and ate my meals in the car going from place to place. I also was involved in drama in junior high and performed in 20 shows of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” in Cleveland. But I’ve always enjoyed working with kids, in golf or whatever. Maybe that’s because my mom teaches first grade and sometimes I go help her at school. I currently work with kids in the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf programs in Akron and Canton, Ohio, and help with The First Tee program in Cleveland.
LPGA: What’s at the top of the list on your iPod?
EKEY: I love country music, so Sugarland, Brantley Gilbert, Jason Aldean and maybe some Goo-Goo Dolls.
LPGA: Now that you have a few months of free time, what will you be watching on TV?
EKEY: I don’t get to watch a lot of TV when I’m on the road playing tournaments, but I love NCIS. I like the distinct personalities of the group of investigators and how they all have each other’s back. It will be nice to catch up with that show again.