Heartbreak is the very nature of golf. And, after a year of solid performances, nothing can cause more heartbreak that failing at Qualifying School, professional golf’s version of a trip to the dentist’s office.
Four of South Africa’s top golfers – Lee-Anne Pace, Ashleigh Simon, Melissa Eaton and Paula Reto – will try to avoid that particular agony when they launch their bids at the LPGA Tour’s Final Qualifying Tournament on Thursday.
The local quartet will join 150 other hopefuls from 27 countries, including 30 American states, at the LPGA International golf course in Daytona Beach, Florida in the all-or-nothing battle over 90 gruelling holes for just 20 coveted cards on offer for the 2014 season.
The South African foursome will hope to make the final stage of Q-School for the low 70 players and ties after 72 holes. The consolation prizes are not too shabby, though. Players who finish 21st through 45 and ties will earn membership in Category 17 and everyone who misses, will at least receive Symetra Tour status.
Former Ladies European Tour No 1 Pace has lived through the process before and is a hands-on favourite to make the end goal after another sizzling season in Europe.
The 32-year-old Mossel Bay golfer won the Ladies Spanish and the Turkish Airlines Ladies Opens, posted five top 10 finishes, including a runner-up finish in Slovakia, claimed a top 25 finish at the Ricoh Women’s British Open in a field that included the top ranked players in the world and will start the Qualifying School as the No 2 ranked player in Europe.
Simon, too, has had a couple of turns at Qualifying School and, despite a lengthy layoff at the start of the season, came into some great form recently and vaulted to 10th in the LET standings in just 10 starts.
Eaton won the Florida Natural Charity Classic and finished 13th in the final Symetra Tour rankings, which earned her a straight pass to the LPGA Qualifying School final stage.
But it is unheralded Reto who has been the most impressive over the last few months.
The 23-year-old excelled at hockey and ran track in South Africa, and only took up golf in 2005. She secured a golf scholarship to Purdue University, where she excelled in the collegiate system.
Reto made the All-Big Ten first team, the Golfweek All-American third team, was a Big Ten Sportsmanship Award honouree, received an honourable mention NCGA All-American and was named Golfweek Player of the Week Finished in the quarterfinals of the US Women’s Amateur Championship, where she was eliminated by eventual champion and world’s top-ranked amateur, Lydia Ko.
In July, she graduated with a degree in Law and Society and launched her professional career on the Symetra Tour.
Reto made all seven starts and vaulted to 33rd in the final rankings after tie for sixth in the penultimate Volvik Championship and a third place finish in the season-ending Symetra Tour Championships. This put her straight into the field for the Stage Two Qualifier, where she shot rounds of 73-71-71-73 to tie for 28th and earn her place at Final Stage.
But the South Africans could be up against it with the likes of Amy Anderson, Cheyenne Woods and Kim Kaufmann in the field.
North Dakota State standout Anderson, who won the Stage II Qualifying Tournament in Venice by six strokes, won 20 collegiate titles as a member of the North Dakota State women’s golf team, surpassing Juli Inkster’s previous record of 17 collegiate victories.
Tiger Woods’ niece made headlines last year when she qualified for the 2012 US Women’s Open and played as a sponsor’s exemption at the 2012 Wegmans LPGA Championship.
Texas Tech graduate Kaufmann took the Symetra Tour by storm after graduation and earned her first professional victory in just her third event at the Island Resort Championship in Harris, Michigan. She went on to record three additional top-10 finishes and narrowly the top 10.
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