LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament
LPGA International- Champions & Legends Courses
Daytona Beach, Florida
Final-round Notes and Interviews
December 2, 2012
Rebecca Lee-Bentham sank a 60-foot birdie putt on the final hole of LPGA Final Qualifying to earn co-medalist honors with Thailand’s Moriya Jutanugarn. The Toronto native started the day six strokes off the lead but carded five birdies in her bogey-free round for a share of the top spot with Jutanugarn at 13-under par.
“I wasn’t really thinking about coming in first or anything,” said Lee-Bentham. “I just wanted to play well and focus on striking it well and making putts. I’ve been waiting for this for a while. It’s been a long grind for everybody out here.”
Jutanugarn finished 2-over for the day and had her worst score of the week by four strokes. It was her first round without a birdie and broke a 47-hole bogey-free streak on the par 4 10th. She would also bogey No. 12. The teenager kept things in perspective after a tough round and realized she accomplished her original goal.
“I’m so happy to get my card,” said Jutanugarn. “I got it and that was my goal.”
Ayako Uehara of Japan finished third at 12-under after she carded a final-round 3-under 69.
2012 LPGA Tour rookie Kathleen Ekey saved her best round for last and shot the low round of the week on Sunday with a 7-under 65. She jumped from T14 to sole position in fourth place.
“I knew I needed to play well,” said Ekey. “It’s so easy today to press, press, press so I really tried to stay patient.”
She would card three birdies on the front nine and four on the back in her bogey-free round. The Ohio native said finishing in the top-20 relieves some of the frustration she had through her first year on Tour.
“After I had such a good year in 2011, and then this year, I had really high expectations for myself,” said Ekey. “It was so hard for me. I really struggled and it was really, really hard. I’m just so happy I kept pushing and kept working and am so blessed it worked out this way.”
Rolex Rankings No. 19 Chie Arimura (70) and former University of Southern California standout Lisa McClosky (71) tied for fifth. Arimura said she wasn’t only playing for herself to get her card this week but for all of her fellow JLPGA players back in Japan.
“I wanted to do well for them,” said Arimura. “I didn’t want to come up short and have them think that this will be a tough road for all of us. So that was where the pressure was this week.”
Current LPGA members Laura Diaz (72) and Karlin Beck (70) will improve their status for the 2013 season after finishing the week T8 at 6-under.
Stephanie Sherlock joins Lee-Bentham as the second Canadian to fill a spot in the top-20 this year and finished 10th after a 2-over 74 in the final round.
A group of six players finished T11 including Kayla Mortellaro (67), Kim Welch (68), Brooke Pancake (70), Austin Ernst (70), Caroline Masson (71) and Marina Stuetz (71).
Mortellaro, a University of Idaho grad, said that she kept her nerves in check before and throughout her round. She was T39 to start the final round and put together her best round of the week with a bogey-free 5-under 67.
“I actually wasn’t nervous at all,” said Mortellaro. “I was just concentrated on that cliché of one shot at a time. I had no idea of the scores throughout the day. I just needed to ask where I stood. It’s kind of shocking at the moment.”
Welch also made one of the big jumps of the day when she matched her first-round 68 for her low round of the week. She moved from T30 to a tie for 11th.
A seven-player tie for the final four spots in the top-20 forced a playoff that was pushed to a five-hole sudden death finale. Lauren Doughtie, Taylore Karle, Nicole Jeray, Irene Cho, Kelly Jacques, Breanna Elliot and Jiayun Li battled out in a three-hole aggregate on Nos. 9, 10 and 18. Karle and Doughtie would both birdie the last two holes to finish 2-under to secure their spots.
Jeray, Cho, Jacques and Elliot were faced with sudden death for the two remaining spots, and it took the foursome two holes to close out the tournament. After they each pared the par 4 10th, the group played out the 18th hole where Jeray and Cho both birdied to earn exempt status for 2013. Jeray sank a 20-foot putt on 18 to cap off her 19th appearance at LPGA Q School. Cho overcame a case of shaky hands through a two-foot putt to sink the final putt of the week.
“By far the most nerve racking putt of my life,” said Cho. “I learned a lot about my game this week. About my endurance and patience. But just a lot of emotions right now. I couldn’t be happier.”
Twenty-eight additional players also earned 2013 LPGA membership. Those finishing 21st through 45th gained Category 17 status for next season. For full results, visit http://www.lpga.com/golf/news/2012/12/qschool-stage-iii-final-results.aspx
Caddie praise: After carrying the bag for Moriya Jutanugarn for the final two stages of Qualifying, veteran caddy Eric Bajas is sold that the young Thai player will succeed at the next level. He said he sees a maturity in the teenager and positive mindset that will keep her level through the ups and downs of the professional ranks.
“Her attitude, she never gets upset,” said Baja. “She never throws a golf club and always smiling. When she hits a bad shot, most girls are getting upset and she looks up and says ‘boy am I stupid’ or something like that. But that’s why she’s going to be very successful because her attitude’s great. And she’s not afraid. That’s the key. She will go at the pin.”
Bajas, who has most recently caddied for Bryce Molder on the PGA Tour, got set up with Moriya through her coach Greg Chapman, a close friend of Bajas. He says that the two worked really well together during the two tournaments and thinks he will be back on the bag down the road.
“Communication is everything and we knew how to communicate so well,” said Bajas. “No doubt I will work tournaments for her next year.”
Playoff ready: When Lauren Doughtie was faced with a playoff scenario for a spot in the top-20, she reflected back to this past June when she won her first professional event at the Ladies Titan Tire Challenge on the Symetra Tour. Doughtie knew she could handle the pressure of a playoff and tried pass some time, the same way she did in Cedar Rapids.
“This season really prepared me because I went through a playoff,” said Dougtie. “I tried to do the similar thing just stuck to myself and kept swinging. I had lunch because I was the second group off this morning and had about two hours to spare.”
The NC State grad played four year on the Symetra Tour and recorded two top-20 finishes this season in addition to her win.
Top am: After she finished runner-up at the European Amateur this year, Marina Stuetz started to think about her next steps in her career. She knew she’d have to make some decisions on how to get to the next level, and they’ve seemed to pay off.
“I started to think about whether to turn pro and to see how I would size up against the other players,” said Stuetz. “So I decided to come over here and try Q School and I’ve been here for three and a half months and it’s worked out quite nice.”
The 19-year turned down U.S. college scholarships and decided to start studying business and economics at a local university in Austria a year ago.
“I could set my own classes and take them when I want. That was one of the main reasons to stay in Austria. I’ll probably do a few exams each semester but as I’m on Tour now I don’t know quite yet,” said Stuetz of continuing her education.
“I’m just overwhelmed,” said Stuetz. “I can’t describe how I feel at the moment. I’m so happy. I made my dream come true. I’m super excited. I told myself I would stay amateur to keep off the pressure but that I actually made it in the top-20, of course I will turn pro.”
Stuetz will be the only player on Tour next season to play under the Austrian flag.
Of Note…Two-time LPGA winner Christina Kim shot 2-over par on Sunday and finished T39 at 1-over…three amateurs finished with the 21st-45th spots to earn 2013 LPGA Tour status in Priority Category 17 including Breanna Elliot (T21), Marita Engzelius (T24) and Perrine Delacour (T32).