Gulyanamitta wins LPGA Q-School finals

Junthima "Numa" Gulyanamitta at No. 18 after taking first place during the final round of LPGA Qualifying Tournament at LPGA International.

Junthima "Numa" Gulyanamitta at No. 18 after taking first place during the final round of LPGA Qualifying Tournament at LPGA International.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Numa Gulyanamitta was the picture of bliss after finishing her fifth and final round of LPGA Qualifying School. Gulyanamitta walked away with medalist honors, an LPGA tour card and a little bit of money in her pocket – an unexpected $5,000.

When the former Purdue standout was asked if she knew she’d be taking home a check this week for her play, she paused, shook her head, then shrugged. She was just happy to have earned LPGA status, and even more pleased to have done it with family and friends nearby.

“This week was fun, my caddie was really good – all the credit goes to her,” Gulyanamitta said of sister and former LPGA player Russy. The Gulyanamitta sisters formed a tough team this week at LPGA International as Numa shot back-to-back rounds of 68 on the weekend to finish at 10-under 350.

Gulyanamitta overtook 20-year-old Christine Song, a Fullerton, Calif., native who recently moved to nearby Longwood, Fla. and frequently practices of LPGA International. Song had led at the completion of each previous round.

True, Song also walked away with a card, and never really had to worry about falling short of that goal, but the burn of losing medalist honors at the eleventh hour left her in tears off the 18th green.

“I kind of wanted to win, but it’s OK now,” Song said. “The goal was just to get the card.”

For Numa, this win was the first since winning a Cactus Tour event this summer. She had been bouncing around on the starter tour, which is based in Arizona, between a visit home to Thailand, the U.S. Women’s Open (where she finished T-15) and the opening stages of Q-School.

“It feels good, I finally have my own tour to play, I have tournaments to play,” Gulyanamitta said.

• • •

Call her Ms. Clutch: As the leaders made their way into the clubhouse, Lizette Salas stuffed headphones in her ears and squatted on her golf bag a little way off the 18th green. Salas, a recent USC graduate and the only four-time All-American in program history, was part of a growing number of players tied for the 20th position on the leaderboard. In all, nine players were tied at 5-over 365 with only one tour card available.

Three threesomes returned to Nos. 9, 10 and 18 for an aggregate playoff, and Salas shook off any lingering nerves to make quick work of what could have amounted to a long afternoon.

“I guess I put on my batteries,” Salas said after winning the playoff with three birdies. “I don’t know, just something came out. I’m still speechless about it. I had been struggling all week with the putter and just trying ot get comfortable. Something just clicked and I was in the zone.”

After birdies at the first two holes, two players in the group ahead of Salas – Lacey Agnew and Danah Bordner – eagled No. 18 to tie her at 2 under. Salas faced an 18-footer there to get to 3 under, and force the three players behind her to hole out on their second shots to continue the playoff.

“I saw it trickle and I said keep going, keep going and it went in,” Salas said of the putt at 18.

• • •

Wintering well: Rebecca Lee-Bentham shot a 5-under 67 on Sunday that was the best round of the day among all 76 players who made it to the final round.

“This week hasn’t been the best for me and then today everything just came together,” she said.

An intense putting practice session with dad and caddie Ken on Saturday night might have something to do with the change. Lee-Bentham laid a meter stick on the floor at home in her room and practiced putting from one end of the stick to the next without the ball leaving the stick.

She did that 400 times before going to bed, and came back Sunday with much more confidence on the greens.

Lee-Bentham and her family are taking a break from a cold Toronto winter and staying in Daytona Beach, where the Canadian standout has non-stop access to LPGA International. The family arrived about two weeks ago, and the new living situation seems to be agreeing with Lee-Bentham, who played collegiately at Texas last year before turning pro.

Not only are most of her friends extremely jealous, she explained, but being able to play and practice here has its perks, too. Aside from earning her LPGA tour card Sunday on the very familiar Champions Course, Lee-Bentham also recorded a win at a SunCoast Series event two weeks ago also played on the Champions Course. Lee-Bentham shot rounds of 68-66-70 to win. Her second round was her career low.

• • •

On to Spain: With a final-round 68, Dori Carter finished T-4 on the leaderboard and safely secured her LPGA tour card for the second consecutive year. It’s a week she’s happy to put behind her.

“It’s the best feeling in the whole wide world, just knowing that it’s done, I hope I never have to come back here,” she said.

In her second year with status, Carter hopes to build her schedule somewhat differently. She only was able to play 11 LPGA events in 2011 – plus the three Futures Tour events players in categories 1-11 are allowed – which isn’t enough to develop a rhythm. It’s why she and other qualifiers, like former Duke player Jennie Lee, are headed to Spain in January for Ladies European Tour Qualifying School. Carter hopes to gain full status there to supplement a sparse domestic schedule.

“I’m excited, I’ve never been to Europe before,” she said. “This will be a new experience for me and hopefully it will be a good one.”

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