Venezuelan Zapata Takes Early Lead in Stage II
The second stage in the road to the LPGA got underway on Thursday with the first round of Stage II of LPGA Qualifying Tournament in Venice, Florida.
Alazne Urizar Zapata (San Tome, Venezuela) went bogey-free en route to a career-best 6-under par 66 to grab the 18-hole lead at the Plantation Golf and Country Club.
“My putter was on fire,” Zapata said with a laugh on Thursday evening. “I was feeling really good on the greens, the speed was working so good for me. It feels like the course was made for me. I had a few shots where I missed the green or missed the fairways, but I was trying to focus on ’it’s not how you start it’s how you finish’.”
Zapata played collegiately at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), where she was the 2014 NAIA Individual National Champion, and she has been working hard since then to achieve her dream of playing on the LPGA Tour.
Zapata received her Master’s in Architecture from SCAD in May 2016 and then went on to compete at Stage I of LPGA Qualifying School. She finished T173 that year, but vowed to work hard to make it to Stage II in 2017.
“I’ve had a pretty busy year practicing and getting better in my mental and physical game,” Zapata said. “Just preparing for this. It’s my dream to get to the big leagues.”
Zapata is on her way to the big leagues after finishing T38 in Stage I, and starting off Stage II with the first-round solo lead.
“It feels good, but I just want to keep playing the game that is responding pretty well to what I’ve been training,” she said. “Not getting comfortable, but just keeping my mind focused in what I want to do and keep going. It’s not over yet.”
The low 80 and ties following the final round this week will advance to Final Stage, or LPGA Qualifying Tournament Stage III, which takes place from November 30 - December 3 at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Florida. The top 20 finishers at Final Stage of LPGA Qualifying School earn LPGA Tour membership. Players that do not finish in top 80 will still have Symetra Tour membership for the 2018 season.
There are 10 different nations represented in players that stand in the top 20 after day one, including six different countries represented by the top six players.
2017 Ladies European Tour rookie Luna Sobron (Palma De Mallorca, Spain) sits in a tie for second at 5-under par after the first round of play. “My second shot from fairway to greens was really good today,” Sobron said.
She had a look for eagle on the par-5 ninth as she settled for one of her seven birdies of the day. “My second shot was from the right side of the fairway, I hit a 7-iron to the flag, I had a three-meter putt that didn’t get in, but it’s okay - the second shot was really good,” she said.
Jenny Haglund (Karlstad, Sweden) leads the LET Rookie of the year race right now, and she joins Sobron in a tie for second after the first day of Stage II at 5-under par.
“It feels really good,” Haglund said. “Now I can go out and just continue playing and I’m going to stick to the plan I had from the beginning. I’ll stay calm and it will be easier to go out and play tomorrow.”
Rounding out the three players at T2 is 2017 Symetra Tour rookie Csicsi Rozsa (Budapest, Hungary). Rozsa was one of 11 players to play in all 22 events on the Symetra Tour this season notching two top 10s in the process.
“This year was about a lot of learning and in those top 10s I had a little piece in how I’m playing right now,” Rozsa said. “I had a good day, but the tournament still has three more.”
There are 24 amateurs in the field this week with the youngest two players being amateurs Youngin Chun of Gainesville, Fla. and the No. 8 amateur in the world Eun Jeong Seong of South Korea, both 17.
Seong made seven starts on the LPGA in 2017, making the cut in three of those tournaments including playing in the final group on Sunday at the Volunteers of America Texas Shootout and posting a career-best finish T16 finish at the LOTTE Championship.
“Playing with LPGA events in various courses, states and climates helped me to not be nervous, “Seong said on Thursday. “It also led me to improve my course management skills.”
Chun fired a solid 2-under par 70 on Thursday to sit in a tie for 11th.
MOVING ON UP
Success has come early and often in Jenny Haglund’s golf career. The 24-year-old from Sweden graduated from Southern Methodist University last year as the school’s all-time scoring average leader and a four-year all-conference selection. She turned professional in June of 2016 and joined the LET Access Series where she recorded two wins and two other top-3 finishes en route to earning her LET card for the 2017 season.
As an LET rookie, Haglund logged five finishes inside the top 25 in eight starts and even got her first taste of playing in a major championship.
“It’s been really good, transitioning first from the Access Tour to the LET, so kind of moved my way up after graduating from college,” Haglund said. “I played really well at the beginning of the year and I got into the British Open, so it’s really helpful that I’ve played a major already. I didn’t do as well as I wanted but it was a great learning lesson going forward. That’s been the highlight so far this year.”
SPILKOVÁ LOOKING TO MAKE A SPLASH
22-year old Czech Republic golfer and 2016 Olympian Klara Spilková went bogey-free on Thursday to kickstart her hunt for an LPGA card with a 4-under par 68.
“It was pretty good,” Spilková said after her round on Thursday afternoon. “I shot pretty confident today, and hit it really straight. On the front nine I had almost eight opportunities for birdie, really short ones, so I missed a few, but everything was fine. I was really focused and really patient today, and I just waited for the birdies because I really played solid.”
In April this year, after 100 starts on the LET, Spilková became the first Czech player to win on the LET with a one-stroke victory over 15-time LPGA champion Suzann Pettersen at the Lalla Meryem Cup in Morocco.
“It was really good, because I’ve been on Tour for seven years,” Spilková said of her win. “It was really something special for me and my dreams came true. I’ve always wanted to win a tournament, and that happened. So, it’s pretty awesome.”
During the 2017 LPGA season, Spilková played in three of the five LPGA majors in addition to teeing it up at the Aberdeen Asset Ladies Scottish Open, where she finished T68. Spilková is drawing on her LET and LPGA experience this week in Stage II.
“We didn’t have many tournaments [on the LET] this year, so I always had a two month break before majors,” Spilková said. “So, it wasn’t easy for me to keep playing and motivate myself. I made the cuts at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and the Ricoh Women’s British Open, and I was really happy with those results. I wish I could be top 20, but it was still pretty good.”
Should Spilková make it to the LPGA and win a tournament, she would be the first Czech player to do so.
Leona Maguire, the No. 1 ranked amateur in the world according to the World Amateur Golf Rankings, got off to a good start on Thursday carding a 2-under par 70. In June, she captured the ANNIKA Award, which is given to the top college player in the country, for the second time in three years. Maguire is a senior at Duke and has won seven times during her tremendous college career.
Linnea Strom of Sweden, the No. 10 ranked amateur in the world, took medalist honors at LPGA Qualifying School Stage I and got off to a good start in Stage II firing a 2-under par 70 on Thursday. Strom was a WGCA First-Team All-American as a freshman and sophomore at Arizona State. She was a major contributor in delivering a national championship to the Sun Devils. Strom had eight top 10 finishes as a sophomore and held a stroke average of 71.79.
Georgia Hall ranks No. 40 in the world and is third on the LET Order of Merit. The 21-year-old breakout star on the 2017 European Solheim Cup team stole headlines by going 2-3-0 and was the only European player to play all five matches. Hall was steady during the first round on Thursday shooting 1-under par (71) on the Bobcat course.
Cheyenne Knight, the No. 9 ranked amateur in the world, carded a 1-under par 71 in the first round of Stage II on Thursday. A junior at Alabama, Knight was a 2016-17 WGCA First-Team All-American and the SEC Player of the Year.
13 2017 WGCA ALL-AMERICANS IN FIELD
There are 13 2016-17 WGCA All-Americans in the field this week. There are four First-Team All-Americans: Cheyenne Knight (Alabama), Leona Maguire (Duke), Maria Torres (Florida) and Linnea Strom (Arizona State). There is one Second-Team All-American: Martina Edberg (Cal-State Fullerton) and eight Honorable Mention All-Americans: Matilda Castren (Florida State), Kelly Grassel (Florida), Jillian Hollis (Georgia), Harang Lee (Georgia), Morgane Metraux (Florida State), Victoria Morgan (USC), Sierra Sims (Wake Forest), Robynn Ree (USC).
Format: 72-hole stroke play, no cut
Bobcat Course Yardage: 6536
Panther Course Yardage: 6363
Final Stage: Top 80 players from Stage II advance to Stage III at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla. (Nov. 30 – Dec. 3, 2017)