DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – With 72 holes remaining this week at LPGA Q-School, it’s far too early in the game for Amanda Blumenherst to be nervous about being one of the 20 players that will go home with tour cards.
Especially with all that momentum she has on her side.
Blumenherst, who graduated from Duke last spring, shot even-par 72 at the LPGA International Legends Course and is tied for 17th after the first of five rounds.
“It’s so windy out, several of my pars felt like birdies,” Blumenherst said. “I really stayed focused and stayed patient, which was definitely a good way to start the tournament, and even par, I can’t complain, especially in these conditions.”
It’s been a couple of months since Blumenherst won the LPGA sectional qualifier by six shots at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., but she said she was still holding on to the momentum.
Speaking of good vibes, Blumenherst also drew on memories of the CVS /pharmacy LPGA Challenge in September, where she finished tied for fifth. Despite her finish, Blumenherst was not granted a sponsor’s exemption into the Navistar LPGA Classic the following week since she wasn’t an LPGA member.
“That was kind of crushing because if I had done well, I might not have even had to come here,” Blumenherst said, but all with a smile. “Also, I was just playing so well that it’s always fun to keep the momentum going.”
Blumenherst got in plenty of practice in the weeks leading up to this final stage of Q-School, and also managed to find time to shoot a Nike commercial with Suzann Pettersen and Paul Casey, even though she describes herself as “scenery.”
“I was the one hitting and they were talking, but it was a lot of fun,” she said.
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SECRET RECIPE: If there’s a secret to surviving Q-School, then it’s a good bet that Tiffany Joh is closest to discovering what it is. Joh has longtime friend and former UCLA teammate Jane Park on the bag this week at LPGA International. Park earned fully exempt status on the LPGA tour in 2007 when she won the final stage of that year’s LPGA Q-School.
Joh said Park asked to be her caddie for the week, and because they’re such good friends Joh knew Park would be a big help. It’s also because the two are such good friends that Park could back Joh off her tendency to fire at every pin.
“Jane came along and was like, ‘Listen Tiffany, I’m going to un-hit you with the stupid stick,’ ” Joh said.
Joh shot a 6-over 78 in Round 1, but admits it could have been worse. Struggling with nerves early on in the round, Joh plugged her second shot in a bunker at No. 2 (“Plugged it to the point of no return, basically”) on her way to a triple bogey, then carded a double bogey a few holes later.
“I couldn’t really get myself under control and on the back nine, I just calmed down a little bit,” she said.
Was that calm-down thanks to a brilliant mid-round caddie speech?
“Jane just made me eat a banana,” Joh said.
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WELCOME TO AMERICA: With 18 holes in the books, Nikki Garrett leads the pack with a 4-under 68 on the Champions Course.
Garrett, of Shelly Beach, Australia, fared well despite windy conditions at LPGA International. She said she’s used to the wind since her home course in Australia is right on the beach.
“I actually probably didn’t hit it that great today, but I think I only hit like three or four greens on the front nine,” Garrett said. “I got up-and-down well and I putted pretty well. I kept my drives in play, which was good.”
Garrett has been playing since 2006 on the Ladies European Tour, where she earned three top-10 finishes this year.
“It feels like home over there, but you have got to step outside your comfort zone at some point,” she said.
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BOILERMAKERS ABOUND: Maria Hernandez had a familiar face in her gallery during Round 1. Purdue coach Devon Brouse made the trip to Daytona Beach to help his former NCAA champion – and current assistant coach – get off to a good start. Hernandez shot 1-over 73 on the Legends Course and is T-29.
Brouse worked with Hernandez on her a game a few days before she left for Q-School, and was there for most of her Tuesday practice round.
“She’s putting very well, so that’s a good sign for the rest of the week,” Brouse said. “Because if you know Maria’s game, you know that when she putts well, she plays pretty well.”
Another familiar detail for Hernandez is her caddie, Greg Robertson, who is the assistant coach for the Purdue men’s team.
“He is truly a great caddie so I don’t think she missed a putt today that she should have made so that was good,” Brouse said.
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THANKS, MICHELLE: One year after Wie-mania descended upon Daytona Beach and caused the folks at HQ to turn things up a notch, the bells and whistles remain. (Thanks, Michelle.) Although we’re back to only a handful of reporters, the scribes get to stay in a conference room rather than go back to the old trailer. There’s still live scoring, 18th-hole bleachers and scoreboards.
As for the gallery, not so much.
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HUH?: Azahara Munoz pulled out her sand wedge and settled into a bunker shot before realizing: “This is not my wedge.”
The grip was too fat.
Munoz and Tania Elosegui accidently switched their wedges after Tuesday’s practice round.
“Thank God it was the same degree,” said Munoz, who plays with the same 58-degee blue dot Ping wedge as her Spanish compatriot.
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WISH YOU WERE HERE: This year’s field of 105 players is considerably smaller than recent years. In 2008, there were 137 players and 134 the year before.
First of all, entries were down this year, which is not surprising given the economy. Q-School isn’t cheap. Also, several players unexpectedly got into the Tour Championship after so many skipped the event. For players like Taylor Leon and Reilley Rankin, solid play in Houston led to no Q-School.
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