White Wins Championship Division With Birdie On First Playoff Hole
Former Epson Tour player and current LPGA Professionals Apprentice Alexandra (Allie) White (Lancaster, Ohio) triumphed in a playoff on the River Course at Kingsmill Resort to win the 2023 LPGA Professionals National Championship. The first- and second-round leader, White entered the final round fully aware of the stakes at hand. Not only was the title on the line, but the top-eight finishers would earn exemptions into the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, to be held June 19-23, 2024, at Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, WA.
A University of North Carolina grad, White’s gameplan for the week was to avoid being result-oriented, but she couldn’t quite block out the nerves that come with vying for a major exemption. That showed as she bogeyed two of the first five holes. Much like her previous two rounds however, White kept her composure through the struggles, and bounced back with birdies on Nos. 6 and 8 to get back to even on the round. Despite making a bogey on No. 9, White remained in control of her destiny.
With a birdie on No. 11, White returned to even on the round. The Tarheel ended up giving back a stroke on the way in, but standing on the tee of the par-4 No. 18, White held a one-stroke lead over 2022 winner Sandra Changkija (Kissimmee, Fla.) LPGA Class A Professional.
As she lined up to tee off, the weight of the moment caught up to White.
“I was just white knuckling it, and I steered one way right,” White said. “I chunked one short from there and then blasted a chip long. The nerves definitely caught up with me.”
With Changkija in close for birdie, White gave her par putt a run, but just ran past the edge. Changkija had a chance to take the win, but couldn’t get the putt to drop.
With that, the two competitors headed back to No. 18 for a sudden-death playoff at 2-under 211. Now playing with the knowledge that she had secured an exemption into the major, White was able to ease her nerves and just play golf.
“At that point, I just felt nothing but joy,” White recalled. “So, I literally drove my ball in the playoff 60 yards past where I drove my tee shot in regulation. So instead of having 135 to the green, I had like 80 yards, and then I put it to a foot and tapped it in. It was pretty lowkey. I hung in there really well today, considering how nervous I was, so I am really proud of myself for that.”
It was clear to everyone watching the playoff just how much this win meant to White. After playing on the Epson Tour for several years without earning a win, she simply couldn’t contain the happiness that came with this victory.
“Just to get to play golf in a competitive setting was super awesome,” White said. “I think I probably got to play 150 Epson Tour tournaments in my day, and I think the best I ever did was third. So winning is a great feeling I haven’t felt in some time. You can be a pro for a long time and not win much. This was really special.”
Having played in two U.S. Women’s Open previously, White could not be more excited to take on the 2024 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
“I told my friends at the beginning of the week, ‘If I get this done, I’ll be able to shake people’s hands and say, ‘I’m Allie, and I’m playing in a major next year.’ So, I can’t wait to do that all year long.’”
TICKETS PUNCHED TO SAHALEE
Along with White and Changkija, the rest of the Championship Division’s top eight earned their spots into the 2024 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Sahalee Country Club: Jennifer Borocz (Winter Garden, Fla.) PGA; Samantha Morrell (Naples, Fla.) LPGA Class A Professional; Stephanie Connelly Eiswerth (Fleming Island, Fla.) LPGA Class A Professional; Joanna Coe (Haverford, Pa.) PGA; Allie Knight (Knoxville, Tenn.) PGA A-2, and Wendy Ward (Spokane, Wash.) LPGA Class A Professional.
“I’ve played in three KPMG tournaments as an LPGA Professional/PGA Member,” Changkija shared. “Sahalee would be my fourth. It’s really exciting to get to play in an LPGA Tour major. Luckily, I don’t have to do it for a living anymore. So, I make sure to enjoy the perks of that week and being able to play the golf course. A lot of the courses that we go to aren’t places that I’m able to visit on my own or take members to, so it’s definitely a treat to be able to play these bucket list courses.”
“I’ve been able to qualify for two KPMG championships,” Borocz explained. “I’ve also played in two of the PGA Professional Championships and I was on the 2022 Women’s PGA Cup Team. These big events are just special. You just try to go out there, play the best golf that you can, take in every moment, learn things, and just have fun with your friends and your family supporting you.”
“This will be my fourth major, all of which were KPMG Women’s PGA Championships,” Morrell said. “What makes playing in a major so special is just being on the driving range, and there goes Lexi Thompson and Nelly Korda. You share the same practice facilities, locker room and dining room. So just to make a statement and be at that major is amazing. It’s also cool to brush shoulders with the big girls.”
“This will be the sixth KPMG Championship that I’ve qualified for, and I also qualified for the 2015 US Women’s Open,” Eiswerth shared. “KPMG is a wonderful event that we have the opportunity to play in. It’s such an experience to get out there with the big girls. They’re the best players in the world and to see what they do and just to experience the tour life for a week, especially at a major, is just a great opportunity. Major championships are difficult. They tend to be very narrow fairways, fast greens, and thick rough, so it’s not what we’re used to playing every day, so it’s a great challenge. In the end, it’s just really great to get out there and showcase the LPGA and PGA Professionals.”
“Playing in another major, it feels like every time is more special than the one before,” Coe said. “For me, Baltusrol was unbelievable because it was pretty close to Philadelphia. My family came. I had a great pairing. I played with Maria Fassi and Mariah Stackhouse. They were awesome, they hit it great, and they were just a pleasure to play with both rounds. I played pretty darn well, too. Hit some good shots, made some good putts. So, I am looking forward to doing the same next year.”
“It’s super special to qualify for KPMG because I just got through the LPGA Teaching Certification to officially become a Class A Teaching Pro,” Ward shared. “With Sahalee being over in Seattle, which is only about a four-hour drive from Spokane where I reside, it was quite the incentive to qualify. I was lucky to sneak in there right on the number. So, it’s going to be fun to get to play that event in front of some hometown friends and family that will come over from Spokane.”
DEPAULO RUNS AWAY WITH SENIOR DIVISION TITLE
Lisa DePaulo (Austin, Texas) LPGA Class A Professional, went wire-to-wire in the Senior Division at the 2023 LPGA Professionals National Championship. The former LPGA Tour player opened the tournament with a 4-under 67, which matched another former LPGA player and fellow LPGA Class A Professional in Kim Williams (Franklin, Tenn.) DePaulo managed to break that tie in round two however, carding a 2-under 69 while Williams shot a 1-over 72.
Entering the final round with a three-shot lead, DePaulo got off to an unfamiliar start, carding three bogeys on the front nine and making the turn at 1-over 37. For reference, DePaulo carded just one bogey through the first two rounds, which was on the par-4 No. 14 in round two. Still in control of the tournament due to her playing competitors failing to make a charge, DePaulo returned to form, posting a bogey-free back nine of 1-under 34. The final round score of even-par 71 was enough for DePaulo to grab the win by seven strokes at 6-under 207.
“I won this event as a younger player in the Championship Division, so it is really cool to come win as a senior, especially given everything that’s gone on recently,” DePaulo shared. “I’ve had a lot of weird stuff happen in the last few weeks. With Patti Benson dying, another friend passing away in March from cancer, it’s been weighing down on me. I don’t have a lot of tournaments to play, but I wore my bracelet for Patti Benson today. I wore it every day and plan to keep wearing it. So, it just meant a lot for me to keep my focus and stay disciplined to play well.”
In addition to DePaulo, the remaining top-eight finishers and ties in the Senior Division automatically qualified for the Senior LPGA Championship. Those players are listed above.
AUSTIN GOES WIRE-TO-WIRE IN SUPER SENIOR DIVISION
Former University of North Carolina women’s golf coach and LPGA Class A Professional Sally Austin (Pinehurst, N.C.) battled throughout the final round, but managed to hold on to win the Super Senior Division at the 2023 LPGA Professionals National Championship. Austin came into the day with a seven-shot lead in the division, but after just seven holes in the final round, that lead was cut to four, with Austin sitting at 1-over on the day and Jeannette Kohlhaas (North Charleston, S.C.) LPGA Class A Professional moving up the ranks with a 2-under start.
Both Austin and Kohlhaas bogeyed the par-4 No. 9 before making the turn at 2-over 38 and 1-under 35, respectively. Kohlhaas inched even closer on No. 10, with a birdie of her own to offset a bogey from Austin. All that momentum would eventually come to an end however, as Kohlhaas made double bogey on the par-4 No. 11. Kohlhaas did manage to follow that up with an immediate birdie on No. 12, but three late bogeys would derail her chase for the title.
Austin continued to battle on the back nine, carding two bogeys and a double, but she remained composed down the closing stretch with a birdie on No. 16 and pars on Nos. 17-18 to finish the day at 5-over 76.
“I didn’t have my best stuff today, but I was pleased with the way I responded and played,” Austin shared. “It’s tough having not been in competition to hop back in, but being in the hunt, I was just scraping and clawing and trying to get the ball in the hole the best I could.”
That patience and determination to hold on for the four-shot win at 8-over 221 is something Austin learned in her time coaching at UNC.
“You know, I tried to teach patience and one shot at a time with them,” Austin reflected. “I always tried to play that way too, but notice I said tried, because I didn’t always play that way.
“But today I really tried to incorporate what I told them. You think about that stuff as a mentor of any sort. As a proponent of a certain thing, you want to practice what you preach, and I certainly try to do that in my life.”
Not only did Austin win the division, but she was honored with the Shirley Spork Super Senior Champion Award, which is presented to the lowest scorer age 70 or older.
“She was such a wonderful proponent for women’s golf and especially the LPGA and it’s teaching professional division,” Austin said. “She was always at events encouraging us and she also mentored a lot of people. So, it’s really special to have this named in her honor.”
LPGA co-founder Shirley Spork was always a player with a keen eye for golf swing technique, leading her to become one of six inaugural members of the LPGA Professionals Hall of Fame. In 1959, Spork helped found the LPGA Professionals along with Marilynn Smith, Betty Hicks and Barbara Rotvig. The Michigan native was twice named LPGA National Teacher of the Year (1959 and 1984). She also served as the LPGA’s Chairperson for eight years.
CROOKS EMERGES WITH CHALLENGE DIVISION TITLE
Joellyn Crooks (Fuquay Varina, N.C.) LPGA Class A Professional won the Challenge Division for the first time at 5-over 218. Entering the final round tied for the lead, Crooks got off to a hot start with a bogey-free 1-under 35 on the front nine. She kept the bogey-free streak alive through No. 11, but ended up giving one back with a bogey on the par-4 No. 12. At this point in the round, Crooks was firmly in the driver’s seat as the closest challenger was eight shots back. With that in mind, Crooks kept to the gameplan, and played steady golf on the way in, finishing the day with her lowest round of the tournament at even-par 71.
“I have played for several years here, including last year,” Crooks said. “I’ve always enjoyed it, but it’s also been a struggle because I always come in rusty. I don’t get to practice as much as I used to, so it feels really good to just kind of put three days in a row together out here.
“A big difference between this year and last year was having my friend on the bag this year. She really helped me to focus on one shot at a time and to stay in the moment. Her guidance throughout the three days was awesome, and it was just fun to spend time with a friend.”
Janean Murphy (Ballwin, Mo.) LPGA Class A Professional came from behind to secure runner-up honors at 12-over 225 thanks to her final-round, 2-under 69, which was the lowest score of the tournament in the Challenge Division.