DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Something about this year’s LPGA Q-School seemed different. Glancing down the tee sheet, I recognized too many names. Then it hit me: Where are the Koreans?
In 2007, 16 Koreans were in the field, and that figure rose to 23 last year. This time around, there are five Koreans in the field of 105, and only one – Il Hee Lee – is trying to play professionally in the U.S. for the first time.
Lee, who turns 21 Dec. 13, played for three years on the Korean LPGA and stands tied for 27th after two rounds. She pointed to the LPGA’s small schedule as the main reason Korean players stayed home this year or went to Japan.
What made Lee decide to come over by herself?
“My goal is 21 years, come to U.S.,” she said.
It’s difficult to say if this year’s small Korean contingent is a sign of things to come. That largely depends on how quickly the LPGA recuperates.
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Julieta Granada won $1 million at the 2006 ADT Championship, and she’s back at Q-School for the second time in her career. Because Granada can rely on the winner’s category for only three years, she had to return to Q-School to improve her status after finishing last season 107th on the money list.
Granada, who is tied for fifth in Daytona, crisscrossed the world this year playing on both the LPGA and Ladies European Tour. From Daytona, she will fly to Dubai for her sixth LET event of the season, which ensures her full status in Europe for 2010.
“I don’t even know what time zone I’m in,” said Granada, whose passport is running out of pages.
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Ayaka Kaneko believes that if people understood her Japanese philosophy, they’d understand why it was necessary for her to leave Pepperdine after one semester. The 19-year-old arrived in Malibu last January, but a left-wrist injury kept her from playing more than one event. Because Kaneko received a full scholarship, she thought it was best if she left school rather than try to stay another year and battle through her injury.
“When (the Japanese) get something, we have to give back,” Kaneko said. “People questioned me so many times.”
Kaneko still gets therapy for her wrist twice a week in California as doctors continue to work out exactly what’s wrong. She shot 77-73 and is tied for 70th.
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If Nikki Garrett’s name sounds familiar, British Open fans might remember her from St. Andrews. The Aussie struck the first tee shot at the Old Course in 2007 at 6:30 a.m. It was a monumental moment in women’s golf, as the Old Course opened its fairways to female professionals for the first time.
“Looking back on it, it was a great honor,” said Garrett, who at the time was merely trying to keep her eyes open. She managed to make it off the tee quite nicely, but then had to put one foot in the burn on her second shot. She still managed to save par.
Garrett continues to lead LPGA Q-School after a 1-under 71 on the Legends Course. She shares the top spot with UC Irvine’s Jane Chin, who tied her career low with a 7-under 65 on the Champions Course. Both players are tied at 6-under 138.
“Yesterday I was pretty nervous the first few holes,” Chin said, “and then it kind of all sunk in. … it’s a regular tournament.”
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Meredith Duncan has a lighter take on Q-School this year – literally. The former U.S. Women’s Amateur champ entered her sixth Q-School 38 pounds lighter. She started getting serious about her health after her 29th birthday in March, and spent up to two hours on cardio each day.
“I’m a Southern girl,” said the Louisiana native. “I like fried foods. I like grease and butter.”
Duncan carded her second consecutive 72, birdieing the last two holes. She had a tough stretch in the middle of Thursday’s round but reminded herself that she had 60 holes left.
“That’s the thing about Q-School,” she said. “Everyone is going to have a stretch of holes that can tip you.”