Notebook: More collegians getting access to LPGA
In the next month, an unusually large number of college players will have the opportunity to play in LPGA events, and that’s mostly thanks to tournament sponsors. Lately, sponsor exemptions are not only available to the top-ranked and most decorated players, but also to those who can play their way in.
Texas senior Madison Pressel and North Carolina junior Casey Grice shot rounds of even-par 71 at Las Colinas Country Club in Irving, Texas, on March 12 to win the two available spots in next month’s North Texas LPGA Shootout. The event, called the North Texas College Shootout, featured a field of 18 college players and is something new to professional golf. It fits the mission of The Nexus Club, the non-profit organization that hosted the qualifier and benefits youth girls’ golf.
Kathy Wilkins, president of the Nexus Club, said the organization put word out about the qualifier to all college conferences nationwide after it was announced in early January that North Texas would host an LPGA event. A selection committee sorted through player applications and narrowed the field to 18.
“We’re trying to pay it forward,” Wilkins said. “It seemed like a perfect combination to be able to use our sponsor exemption to solicit some young talent.”
Pressel, a senior at Texas and No. 184 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, is the younger sister of LPGA winner Morgan Pressel. Madison, the 2011 Big 12 individual champion, is returning to competition after a torn labrum.
For Grice, a junior at North Carolina and ranked No. 15 by Golfweek, the North Texas LPGA Shootout will be a new experience. Grice, who grew up in College Station, Texas, has never played in an LPGA event.
“I’m honored to be able to play in it,” Grice said. “I feel more at home in Texas.”
Grice’s even-par round came on a windy day at Las Colinas, but she was able to avoid mistakes on the course. She had two birdies and two bogeys in her round of 71, and only one three-putt. The course played about 200 yards longer than a women’s college event, which left Grice with longer shots into the greens.
After the qualifier, Grice flew to Gainesville, Fla., to join her team at the Gator Women’s Invitational. It’s back to playing and practicing as normal.
“(The LPGA event) might give me a little more motivation to keep working hard,” she said.
In addition to Grice and Pressel, third-place finisher Chelsea Mocio and fourth-place finisher Katerina Ruzickova, teammates at Texas A&M, earned spots in the event’s Monday qualifier.
Before the LPGA lands in Texas, six other college players will appear in LPGA fields. Gonzaga sophomore Alice Kim won a spot in the Kia Classic, to be played March 21-24, courtesy of her individual win at the UC Irvine Invitational.
A handful of sponsor exemptions also are traditionally reserved for amateurs at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the season’s first major. This year, invitations were extended to nine amateurs, five of whom are current college players (Doris Chen, USC; Lindy Duncan, Duke; Camilla Hedberg, Florida; Isabelle Lendl, Florida; Stephanie Meadow, Alabama).
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Short shots: North Dakota State’s Amy Anderson reached college victory No. 17 on March 12 at the Jackrabbit Invitational. Juli Inkster also reached that number while at San Jose State, but all were Division I victories. Two of Anderson’s 17 were in Division II- and III-dominant fields. . . . Arizona won its third team title of the season on March 13 at the Dr. Donnis Thompson Invitational. The Wildcats did so without sophomore Kendall Prince, who had to withdraw after the first round because of illness. Prince has the second lowest average on the team, after Invitational winner Manon Gidali.
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Five questions with Arizona State sophomore Noemi Jimenez, who won back-to-back college titles at the Cal Classic and Darius Rucker Intercollegiate. Jimenez is the first Sun Devil to win back-to-back events since Louise Stahl won the Ping/ASU Invitational and Pac-10 Championship in 2005.
1. What did you learn in winning the Cal Classic that carried over for the second victory?
I finished birdie, birdie, bogey, bogey for the last holes (at the Cal Classic). I knew it was going to be my first win so I was really nervous. I knew how to manage but it was kind of hard. I was winning by four shots – you never know because I still had hope but then I finished with bogey, bogey. ... I think it was a consequence of being a little bit nervous. It was going to be my first win and I was pretty excited about it, so maybe I went into the future instead of being in the present. I talked with my coach about it, she gave me some tips in case that was going to happen the next tournament. So in the Darius Rucker Invitational, in the last hole especially, I knew more or less I was winning on that hole, so I thought about the last tournament. I kind of knew what was going to happen. The only thing I did was (tell myself to) play this hole the same as I played the first hole.
2. You’ve won two French Amateur titles (2009, ‘10) and the Girls’ British Open Amateur (2009). How do the college victories compare?
International victories are really important because those are the ones that are going to help you get into universities. Every time you win, you gain experience. Over in the United States, victories are a big deal because you’re on another continent and everyone is going to know about it. I was really happy with my two (college) victories because I know that is going to open a lot of chances because I want to be a golf professional and hopefully get onto the LPGA.
3. You made four birdies in the first five holes during the final round of the Rucker. How does that compare to the best streaks in your golf career?
I made four birdies in a row at the French Amateur, but it was finishing the tournament. But four birdies in five holes? That was huge. After those four birdies, I was like, ‘I can win this tournament.’
4. You look up to fellow Spaniard (and former Sun Devil) Azahara Munoz. What about her is most inspiring to you?
Azahara is like a role model because she is from my same golf club (Guadalmina in Malaga, Spain) and I am friends with her since I started playing golf, basically. I saw how she progressed since she was an amateur to a professional and how she is very responsible, how she likes everything and I want to be like her. She is my hero. ... I kind of follow her steps, and hopefully I will be like her.
5. What is your next goal in golf?
I feel that I am ... playing really good, but I’m going to try to do my best in the next tournament. Why not? If another win comes, who knows. I want to try my best in every single tournament, I want to play how I play. I’m not going to think that I already won twice, I want to do more than that. Hopefully another win will come very soon, and if not I’ll just keep on practicing and let’s see what happens. ... I have a very big confidence right now with my game.