Over the next six days, Golfweek.com will be looking at the players who made significant moves during the past year in the Golfweek/Sagarin Index.
In hindsight, it’s hard to shake a finger at Mina Harigae and Anna Nordqvist, two high-profile players who left their college programs at midseason in late 2008. Arizona State’s Nordqvist and Duke’s Harigae were Nos. 1 and 6, respectively, in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings when they turned professional.
Their rewards were so great, the risks now seem to pale in comparison.
While Nordqvist, 22, got plenty of attention with her two-victory rookie season on the LPGA, including a major championship, Harigae toiled in relative obscurity – although just about as successfully – on the Duramed Futures Tour. She won three times on the developmental circuit and topped the money list to earn her LPGA card for 2010, yet didn’t sign with an agent – Gaylord Sports – until October. She currently has no sponsors.
“I think I exceeded my expectations, definitely,” said Harigae, who ended the season ranked No. 56 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index. Nordqvist, by the way, is No. 12. Neither had played enough pro events to be ranked at the beginning of the year.
Harigae took a huge gamble by leaving Duke as a freshman with no guaranteed place to play. She won a Cactus Tour event almost immediately, then squeaked into the first Futures Tour event just days before she dropped out of the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. (The Futures Tour uses the Golfweek rankings to fill its fields.) Harigae did not go to Futures Tour Q-School.
The 20-year-old from Monterey, Calif., earned Futures status with a runner-up finish at the season’s second tournament. She was the first player in Duke coach Dan Brooks’ 25-year career to leave the storied program at midseason.
“I kind of miscalculated the effort I needed for golf and academics, to try to balance it,” said Harigae, a former top-ranked junior and 2007 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links champion. “I wanted to play golf. That’s all I cared about.”
Harigae won $88,386 and finished the year with five consecutive top-6 finishes. Brooks was not at all surprised by her success.
“This is no fluke what she’s done,” he said. “As a junior, she just had the most natural swing.”
Harigae continued working with Jeff Fisher, who read in Golfweek that Harigae was in the market for a new instructor last summer. Fisher works out of Longbow Golf Club in Mesa, Ariz. The pair continue to work on making Harigae’s swing more upright.
Being in the hunt so many times on the Futures Tour helped Harigae learn when to shift gears. She now knows when to play it safe and when to “turn it on.” She no longer goes for every pin.
“I think I matured a lot as a person,” said Harigae, who always has played with plenty of emotion. “I feel like I’m more disciplined. I’ll do the right thing rather than take the easy way.”