Walking along the range at LPGA International, flags of 31 countries wave continuously like the tireless spirit of every player they are represented by in the field at Stage III of LPGA Qualifying School.
At the Final Stage, a total of 24 players represent 13 different European nations. The country with the strongest contingent is Sweden.
“It’s big for us, having so many players here,” said Linnea Ström (Gothenburg, Sweden), the top amateur in the field and currently No. 9 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Rankings. “We had 16 at Stage II and then nine made it here.”
In addition to Ström, Camilla Lennarth (Stockholm, Sweden) is another name to keep an eye on. She is No. 214 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. The rest of the Sweden natives competing include Martina Edberg, Louise Ridderstrom, Elin Arvidsson, Jenny Haglund, Linnea Johansson, Lina Boqvist and Daniela Holmqvist.
Meanwhile, seven countries (Belgium, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway and Scotland) each have one individual in the field of 165. The top ranked player out of that group is Anne Van Dam (Arnhem, Netherlands), No. 177 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings.
“There’s a lot of good European Tour players now,” said Georgia Hall (Wimborne, England). “There’s a lot of us that want to come over here and play.”
The trend of top European players coming to the United States to fulfill their dreams of playing on the LPGA doesn’t stop there. Four countries—England, Spain, France and Germany—each have four representatives. The top ranked competitor in the field is Hall, No. 41 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings and also the No. 1 player on the 2017 Order of Merit for the Ladies European Tour.
“I think it’s definitely where you need to be, it’s the best tour,” Hall said. “I played in quite a lot of majors this year along with some of the other European Tour girls, and I think it made them even more want to join the LPGA.”
Last but not least, the Czech Republic checks in with two individuals at Stage III, including Klára Spilková, No. 211 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings.
“It was always my dream to come over and play on the LPGA because I turned professional really young,” said Spilková, also No. 4 on the 2017 Order of Merit for the LET. “I wasn’t really prepared to go here. You have to be really strong in your mind. But it was always my dream and I think same for girls from LET.”
With such a rich European flavor attacking the Jones and Hills courses, and very talented to boot, plenty of low numbers are sure to be found early and often.
“It’s a good week to be here, you never know what will happen,” Spilková said. “I just want to follow my dreams and I don’t want to really put so much pressure on myself because it’s just golf. You play and you will see.”
A LAID BACK ALOHA ATTITUDE
When it comes to a player-caddy tandem, Emanuel “Bully” Duarte and Gabriella Then (Rancho Cucamonga, California) are a match made in heaven, but you wouldn’t exactly be able to tell by skimming the surface.
As Bully thumbs through a Hills Course yardage book from 2001 during Then’s practice round at LPGA International on Tuesday, he is quick to point out that it was actually called the Legends Course back in the day. He is also proud to reveal his Jones Course yardage book is dated 1999. Then was 4 years old at the time.
“I already know just by looking at the flag where I want her to go because I’ve been doing this so damn long,” 72-year-old Bully said, laughingly.
A caddy for greater than 30 years, including for the likes of Arnold Palmer, Bully also spent 22 years in the United States Army, serving in Vietnam, Korea, Thailand and Germany. Furthermore, he played golf for the military and was a club champion during his time in Korea.
But what makes Bully so fun to be around is his laissez faire approach to life. A native of Hawaii, he carries an aloha attitude wherever he goes and in whatever he does.
“We’re just chilling down the fairway,” Then said. “He makes a lot of stuff fun out there and makes a lot of jokes. It’s just fun.”
The construct of their professional relationship started in Garden City, Kan., at the Garden City Charity Classic when Bully approached Then about her plans for LPGA Qualifying School.
“I really liked this girl’s game,” said Bully. “This girl can putt and she’s got a good swing.”
For Then, self determination has always been her driving force, so the opportunity Bully presented was a new one.
“I’ve never hired a Tour caddy before, I used volunteer caddies all year. And I pushed the bag myself,” said Then. “I don’t look to others as a mark or in comparison to my game, just pushing myself to shoot the best I can.”
Then started on the Symetra Tour in June after graduating from the University of Southern California in May. The former Trojan competed in 12 events with her best finish coming at the PHC Classic where she tied for fourth. On the year, Then earned $10,628 to finish at No. 81 on the Volvik Race for the Card money list.
At Stage II of LPGA Qualifying School in Venice, Fla., the first tournament with Bully on the bag, Then tied for third, firing a 9-under par on the Panther and Bobcat courses of Plantation Golf and Country Club.
“As long as she’s relaxed, she’s going to play great golf,” Bully said. “It doesn’t matter with me if you shoot 69, or 89, or 99, I’m going to be the guy there to back you up, and that’s how I want you to feel out there.”
While the results were pleasing, it was a unique birthday celebration during the tournament that helped strengthen their understanding of one another.
“At Stage II he threw me this little birthday party,” Then said, with a smile on her face.
Bully added that since the festivities, things have only become easier to work together.
“That, I think, kind of set the stage to where she really got to know I’m very relaxed,” said Bully.
The mentality Bully personifies has translated to Then, as she presents in a very calming demeanor, on and off the course.
Now at the Final Stage and returning to LPGA International, Then is ready to go, but also looking for revenge. Her last time in Daytona Beach was early October when she missed the cut at the Symetra Tour Championship.
“I feel like I’m right in the middle of the pack and it feels comfortable,” said Then. “It keeps the pressure off me. I think I should just do the same thing as Stage II, keep my expectations away from mediocrity, and push myself to have some room.”
Self-driven and confident in her game, but also trusting in Bully’s experience, Then seems to have the winning formula to make her dreams come true.
“With Bully on the bag, I’ll be calm and laughing the entire time,” Then said. “I know a lot of these players have done well and a lot of them have LPGA status, but I haven’t yet, so I have to push myself to get to that point.”
- Maria Parra (Sotogrande, Spain) has withdrawn from Stage III of LPGA Qualifying School, trimming the field by one from 166 to 165.
- There are three 2016-2017 Women’s Golf Coaches Association (WGCA) Division I First-Team All-American performers at the Final Stage. They include August Kim (Purdue University), as well as amateurs Linnea Ström (Arizona State University) and Maria Torres (University of Florida).
- At 52 years old, Lorie Kane (Prince Edward Island, Canada) is the oldest competitor in the field this week. Meanwhile, 78 players are age 24 or younger.