DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Dec. 4, 2011 – Rookie professional Junthima (“Numa”) Gulyanamitta spoiled Christine Song’s attempt to win the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament in wire-to-wire fashion.
The player from Thailand carded a 4-under 68 on the Champions Course in today’s final round for medalist honors at 10-under 350 for 90 holes. A tearful Song finished with a disappointing final round of 2-over 74 for second at 8-under 352 after leading the tournament for four rounds.
“It’s a good feeling to accomplish my goal,” said Gulyanamitta, 23, of Rayong, Thailand. “Now I have my card to play on the LPGA.”
A member of Purdue University’s 2010 NCAA Championship team, Gulyanamitta chased down the frontrunner to grab the lead in today’s final round. The Thai player carded six birdies and one double-bogey (on No. 12), but it was on hole No. 10 where she took the lead with a birdie, while Song bogeyed that hole for a two-shot swing.
Song struggled with her yardages and club selections today. She recorded three bogeys in her first 10 holes and didn’t roll in a birdie putt until the No. 15, where she chipped in from five yards off the green. Song bogeyed No. 16 when she failed to save par from a bunker. Her eagle chance from 15 feet on the last hole rolled two feet past the cup and she tapped in for birdie.
“It’s bittersweet, but it’s OK,” said Song, 20, of Fullerton, Calif. “I wanted to win and I put a lot of pressure on myself, but the goal was to get my card, and I did that.”
Third-year pro Jennie Lee (72) of Henderson, Nev., finished third at 4-under 356.
Three players tied for fourth at 3-under 357. They were Dori Carter (68) of Valdosta, Ga., Karlin Beck (69) of Pike Road, Ala., and Jodi Ewart (70) of North Yorkshire, England.
Tied for seventh at even-par 360 were Sandra Changkija (70) of Orlando, Fla., and Maude-Aimee Leblanc (72) of Sherbrooke, Canada, who was a former Purdue University teammate with Gulyanamitta.
With steady wind blowing on the Champions Course throughout today’s final round and intermittent light rain blowing in and out, players hoping to secure 2012 LPGA membership were pressed to perform on the day that mattered most.
Spain’s Elisa Serramia (73) of Barcelona, for example, birdied the 18th hole from 8 feet to jump into the 19th spot at 4-over 364, avoiding the playoff and earning LPGA membership for the first time.
Fighting to keep her card, Meredith Duncan (70) of Shreveport, La., leaped into the top 20 today when she saved bogey from nine feet on the 16th hole, drained a 60-foot birdie putt on No. 17 and holed out for eagle from 75 yards on the final hole to climb into a tie for ninth at 3-over 363.
Joining Duncan in ninth place at 3-over 363 was the group of Rebecca Lee-Bentham (67) of Toronto, Canada, Minea Blomqvist (70) of Espoo, Finland, Cydney Clanton (71) of Concord, N.C. Angela Oh (72) of Baltimore, Md., and Stephanie Kono (75) of Honolulu, Hawaii.
Both Kono and Argentina’s Victoria Tanco (69) of Bradenton, Fla., gave up their amateur status today after earning top-20 LPGA membership for 2011. Kono is a senior All-American at UCLA and a 2010 member of the U.S. Curtis Cup team. Tanco, 17, was the winner of the 2011 Women’s Western Amateur Championship and of four AJGA invitational tournaments.
Tanco finished tied for 15th at 4-over 364 alongside Ayaka Kaneko (71) of Honolulu, Hawaii, Tanya Dergal (71) of Durango, Mexico, Hannah Yun (71) of Bradenton, Fla., and Elisa Serramia (73) of Barcelona, Spain.
One of the tournament’s most gusty performances came today when nine players were forced into three extra holes for the last card in the top 20 -- worth full 2012 LPGA membership. Rookie pro Lizette Salas of Azusa, Calif., birdied all three holes to win the playoff.
“I had about an 18-foot putt for birdie on No. 18 and I glanced at the leaderboard and knew I needed to give it a run,” said Salas, 22, a four-time All-American at the University of Southern California, who played on the LPGA Futures Tour this summer.
Salas had just birdied the 18th in regulation, so after the three-hole playoff returned to holes 9, 10 and 18 on the Champions Course, she was staring at her fourth straight birdie on the final green. The putt found its mark for birdie once again on 18 and Salas secured the 20th full-status spot as a 2012 LPGA member.
“This means the world to me,” said Salas. “I’m just relieved and so excited.”
Twenty-one additional players also earned 2012 LPGA membership, with 10 players gaining Category 16 status by finishing 21st through 30th, and 11 more players earning Category 20 membership by finishing 31st through 40th (with ties).
A field of 139 players started this week’s event, hoping to either earn membership or improve their current member status for the 2012 LPGA Tour. Sectional qualifiers, along with current LPGA Tour members attempting to improve their status for 2012, also were in the field. In addition, players finishing Nos. 6-10, and the next top 10 players on the 2011 LPGA Futures Tour money list (who do not already have LPGA status), competed this week.
All total, players finishing 1st through 40th, including ties, received 2012 LPGA membership, with the top 20 finishers earning full status for 2012.
For scores of these and other contestants from the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament, visit LPGA.com.
By LPGA Senior Writer Lisa D. Mickey