It may be the start of a new month, but as the calendar flips to November one thing is certain at LPGA Q-Series presented by Blue Cross and Blue Shield North Carolina and that is the consistency of Muni He (Chengdu, China).
For the seventh time in as many rounds, the University of Southern California alumna signed for a score in red numbers with a 1-under par 71 on Pinehurst Course No. 9. The steady performance gives her the 126-hole outright advantage by three strokes at 19-under overall.
“I think it's all about adapting, but definitely the conditions were quite different today dropping, I don't know, 20 degrees or something like that,” said He, who saw her bogey-free streak end at 51 holes with a bogey on the par-5 15th. “It's funny because walking up to that hole I was thinking about it which proves I shouldn't be overthinking. I came up just short and got caught in the rough, was hard for me to stand. I still stayed committed to my shot and it was just a little bit of bad luck.”
Hee Young Park (Seoul, Republic of Korea) stayed right in the hunt for medalist honors with an even par 72 highlighted by three birdies. Rounding out the final pairing off No. 1 tee tomorrow at 11:23 a.m. ET is Yealimi Noh (Concord, California) at 12-under overall, making it the same trio for the last group again.
“Very important with [LPGA Priority List] ranking and first, second, third place, but this is not about who is going to win this event,” Park said. “I want to keep my card and get done with this golf tournament is my goal. I'm really happy with little less pressure than any other girls so far and am going to keep playing safe. Fairways, greens, and if I make the par I'm just really happy with that every single hole.”
NOH EAGER TO PROVE HERSELF WITH A SPOT ON TOUR
As morning temperatures dropped into the mid-30s in Pinehurst, N.C., 18-year-old Yealimi Noh drew on past experiences to find a consistent tempo. It worked in her favor as Noh went 1-under par 71 in round seven at LPGA Q-Series to head into the final day in solo third.
“I had three jackets on, pants, skirt and then obviously golf-wise it wasn’t going as far,” said Noh, who posted four birdies and three bogeys. “It was pretty soft from the rain yesterday [evening]. It was a lot of yardage, like it was shorter, so I had to take more club and it was really different.”
Much of the last year has felt like a marathon for the young professional. Noh hoped performances like a top-10 finish in the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic and runner-up at the Cambia Portland Classic would land her an exemption directly to Q-Series courtesy of the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. Instead, she is No. 105, a minimum of 40 spots away from avoiding Stage II of the LPGA Qualifying Tournament.
“I’m actually really thankful that I was able to play in Florida and the first three days were really like a rollercoaster for me,” said Noh, referring to her final round 7-under par 65 at Stage II which secured her place in Q-Series. “I was on the edge of like really far from making it and coming back on the last day just showed me how tough I was mentally. Really, I surprised myself a little, too. Now I kind of know what to do when I feel so much pressure and stuff like that. It really helped me.”
Noh is excited to see what is in store for next year because of the qualifying process, but knows she will not feel any relief until tomorrow is through.
“I’m just so excited,” Noh said. “It’s not over until it’s really over. Want to play steady and patient, don’t have to win or anything. There is a big lead, but just need to play my game and get through tomorrow.”
PERRY’S PERFORMANCE A MEANINGFUL STEP IN JOURNEY
She first gained LPGA Tour membership by ending tied for 14th at the 2016 LPGA Qualifying Tournament Final Stage, but Katherine Perry (Cary, North Carolina) is much more than a three-year veteran hoping to play her way back to the big stage through Q-Series.
Perry is a University of North Carolina graduate and Peggy Kirk Bell Girls Golf Tour alumna, having won nine titles on the junior circuit based out of the Triad region of North Carolina. Furthermore, she earned 2012 All-ACC honors for the Tar Heels. Those experiences during her amateur career provided a support system for growth in the sport that runs deep as the roots she has planted in the Tar Heel State.
“It’s a great tour, still the only of its kind where it is all girls,” said Perry. “I went from playing in fields of 5-10 girls, to 30-40 and now it is up to 90 sometimes for them. I think the model is great because they don’t do it by age, but skill level. You can have a 17-year-old still in the lower skill level, so I think it’s good that way. It all really helped. My coach from college, assistant coach, current assistant all came out today and having my coach [Robert Linville] here every day was huge, he actually started the PKBGT.”
One of four tied for 13th in Q-Series at 4-under par overall, Perry is now 18 holes away from a full-time return to the LPGA. The nostalgia of where she could accomplish the feat, at Pinehurst Resort, is on her mind down every fairway and around each green.
“I played so many junior tournaments down here, so it is fun to come back and remember those times,” Perry said. “How much fun that was and how much I’ve grown since then. Being here with my parents and really the whole support system makes me realize there is more outside of golf. Tomorrow it’ll hit a little bit more.”
48 PLAYERS AT 5-OVER PAR OR BETTER
Competing in a total of eight rounds over two, four-day segments, the top-45 finishers and ties at LPGA Q-Series presented by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina receive Category 14 membership on the LPGA Tour Priority List for 2020. Individuals in that range, but outside the top-20 and ties also earn Category C status on the Symetra Tour.
With the seventh round in the books and only 18 holes remaining, a total of 48 individuals sit at 5-over par or better while 21 players are 2-under or better. Furthermore, the unofficial purse of $150,000 is set to be distributed at event’s completion.
NOTABLE QUOTESHee Young Park (-16, 2nd) on nearing the end of Q-Series: “I don’t want to prepare anymore for Q-Series because this is too much pressure, making me and a lot of girls nervous with lot of mistakes coming out. I trained really hard, refreshed. The beginning of the year was not that great, but after I prepared and played the season, my mind is stronger and game is back.”
Albane Valenzuela (-8, T5) on her mother flying in for the final round:
“I love having my family around and definitely a great surprise. She was going to be alone this weekend at home because my brother is competing as well, so it's great that's she's here. I haven't seen her since school started, so it's great to have everyone.”
Haley Moore (-6, T8) on a 3-under par 69 for one of the low rounds of the day:
“I concluded with a birdie-birdie finish. I was getting close out there, had a lot of opportunities that just weren't going in. I was just staying patient out there because conditions were better today. Just a little chilly, so we knew that it would be a little bit of a battle out there with the wind.”
Lauren Kim (-6, T8) on rebounding early in her round and battling frigid conditions:“Well, for one, I had a horrible start, so I was just trying to get my head right after the first four holes or so. I was 3-over after that and finished 1-under so pretty happy with the way I played overall, but it was freezing this morning. We were bundled up and you can't swing as fast, the ball doesn't go as straight. It just magnifies misses when it's that cold and you're trying to play to pins that aren't the easiest. The pins were not by any means easy today. A lot of factors combined made it a little tougher.”
PLAYER NOTESMuni He
- He, 20, is a native of Chengdu, China
- University of Southern California alumna
- Played 21 events as a Symetra Tour rookie in 2018, advancing to the weekend 16 times earning two top-10s and her first professional title at inaugural Prasco Charity Championship
- Finished T27 at inaugural LPGA Q-Series to earn Priority List Category 14 status for 2019 LPGA season
- Career-best finish on the LPGA Tour is T27 at the 2019 Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational with playing partner P.K. Kongkraphan
- Made eight cuts in 19 events on the big stage in 2019 as a rookie with her highest result in stroke play being T35 at the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open