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Goodbye, good luck

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Hugs are being held a little longer and squeezed a little tighter this week at LPGA International. I’ve already noticed a few tears welling up in the eyes of players, both from laughing too hard during post-round fun with teammates, and from sadness knowing that the opportunities to laugh too hard are nearly over.

The women’s college golf season ends Friday. Special attention isn’t only being given to 4-footers on the tricky greens on the Legends Course. It’s obvious that players and coaches are taking extra time soaking in these final days. Parents and grandparents are even out in good numbers in the hot Florida sun, braving the humidity and Titleist-sized flying insects to watch their loved ones take the last shots of the year.

For the 29 seniors in the field at the NCAA Women’s Championship, this really is the end of the road. Sure, there will be a handful that will continue playing competitive golf. Some will play amateur events over the summer and a couple will turn pro. But the vast majority of the seniors here aren’t planning to hit another competitive shot.

“It ends right here,” BYU senior Danielle von Arnim said. “It’s hard for me because I keep thinking about it when I’m playing.”

BYU’s commencement ceremony was a month ago and von Arnim, an advertising major and Portuguese minor, already received her diploma. The Colombia native is going back to Bogota next week. She will move to Germany in August with hopes of pursing a job in graphic design. Golf will only be an afterthought. The game is just not the same, she says, without having her teammates and coaches around.

Same goes for Denver senior Emily Hoeper. After walking off the 9th green Thursday – her last hole – she joined her teammates who had set up a boisterous cheering section despite being in 21st place. Hoeper’s final exams begin next week and the Kansas City-native will stay in the Mile High City and look for a job in sports marketing or public relations. She will graduate on June 9. Friday will be her last competitive round of golf, she said.

Tennessee senior Holly Cantwell’s eyes started getting a bit misty when I asked about her four years in Knoxville. She has one more class left and will graduate in December with an exercise science degree. Then it’s off to medical school to get her doctorate in physical therapy.

“It’s sad,” Cantwell said. “It’s going to be hard. I’ve prepared myself for it, but you can’t hold back. I’m an emotional person.”

Speaking of emotions, North Carolina senior Katie Miller nearly lost it after hitting her opening tee ball in the final round of the East Regional. With UNC on the bubble and needing a good round in order to continue its season, coach Sally Austin reminded Miller to have a good time just in case.

“At that point, I was like … ‘This could be my last round,’ ” Miller said.

Miller won a post-graduate scholarship through the ACC and is strongly considering graduate school over a shot at the pro ranks. A career in journalism or sports information sounds more fun.

Oklahoma State senior Mallorie Underwood has 12 hours to finish in Stillwater and will graduate in December with a double major in accounting and finance. Then it’s back to her native Texas for law school. Golf will just be a great memory, she said.

Stanford senior Jennifer Tangtiphaiboontana finished her last quarter in March. While she was finishing her last classes, the biology major landed a job at Triage Consulting Group in San Francisco where she will start in August. From 9-5, Jenny T. will be analyzing contracts between hospitals and insurance companies. Amateur golf will still play small part in her life. She’s already through local qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open and is going to compete in the World University Games in Bangkok, Thailand in August. But after that, she says there won’t be a professional golf career.

“My four years have been the best years I’ve ever had,” Tangtiphaiboontana said. “It hasn’t hit me yet. I’m sure it will hit me come Friday or Saturday.”

Then there’s Jenny Suh, the Alabama senior who transferred from Furman after her sophomore year in order to keep her golf game on point with the aid of coach Mic Potter. At No. 29 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, Suh is among the most qualified seniors at the NCAA Championship to give the pro game a go. She’ll maintain her amateur status throughout the summer and take advantage of exemptions into the U.S. Women’s Amateur and the North and South Amateur. Then it’s off to LPGA Q-School.

“These four years seem to have gone by really quickly, but at the same time, I feel like I’ve got what I needed out of college,” Suh said. “I thought I’d be more emotional, but I’m not really. I’m just happy it’s almost over.”

Tears for some and cheers for others. Either way, it’s been a great ride.

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