At the end of this weekend’s Price Chopper Tour Championship, 10 Futures Tour players will leave Albany, N.Y., with a leg up on next year. The top 10 players on the money list earn LPGA membership in 2012, and the top 5 earn full LPGA status. On the eve of the season finale, here are five things to keep in mind:
1.) Battle at the top: Entering the 54-hole championship at Capital Hills, Alabama alum Kathleen Ekey leads the Futures Tour money list after wins at the Ladies Titan Tire Challenge and Alliance Bank Golf Classic. It’s a marked improvement over last season for Ekey, who turned professional in 2009, as she scored just one top 10 in 15 starts.
To maintain the top spot on the money list, Ekey needs to hold off veteran Lisa Ferrero, who also has two wins on the season (Symetra Classic, Teva Championship). Ferrero has been in the pro game since 2005, and already holds LPGA membership. She added a sports psychologist and a swing coach to her camp this season, which has proven to make quite a difference in her game.
“Most people have that all the time but I decided to commit fully to that and then commit to a full Futures schedule so it was either a make-or-break season. I was either going to do it or figure out what I wanted to do other than playing golf,” Ferrero explained. “… To have a full card would be huge, just to be able to play every week, to have a full schedule and be able to know where you’re going.”
2.) West Coast dominance: Of the top six players on the money list, five hail from California. Only Ekey – who holds a roughly $9,000 lead on Ferrero, of Lodi, Calif. – was born and raised east of the Mississippi.
Three of those players have another connection in their Bruin lineage. Mo Martin, Sydnee Michaels and Tiffany Joh all played their collegiate golf at UCLA, which won its third NCAA title in program history last spring. Seems to be a good time to wear the blue and yellow.
Jane Rah, of Torrance, Calif., is the remaining Californian. Rah, fourth on the money list, had a career-best runner-up finish at the season-opening Florida’s Natural Charity Classic.
3.) Polar opposites: Speaking of Bruins, Michaels is a player peaking right now. She won the last event on the schedule in Vidalia, Ga., and vaulted from No. 13 on the money list to No. 5. Another performance like that means a bump to the LPGA in just her second season as a pro.
Another player who seems to have her game right now is former teammate Joh, who won her second career Futures title at the South Shore Championship on July 2. Joh is a current member of the LPGA tour, and shot a 7-under 65 at the CN Canadian Championship to earn a spot in the final group on Sunday. She would go on to finish T-12 after a final-round 76.
In personality, the two Bruins could not be more different – Joh is as boisterous as Michaels is reserved. In Canada, Joh had this to say of her 1,700 Twitter followers, whom she regularly entertains with jokes: “I mean, I’m glad I haven’t put anything really inappropriate, but at the same time I’m thinking, wow, people must think I’m the biggest dork they’ve ever seen on Tour.”
4.) Faces in the field: Argentina’s Maria Laura Elvira may not be near the top of the money list, but she’s a player worth noting for her unusual background.
Elvira, 33, came to the Futures Tour only after earning a degree in Economics in 2001 from Universidad Catolica Argentina and trying her hand as a reporter for Bloomberg right out of college.
“Bloomberg has a TV show inside the Buenos Aires market exchange so I was working there and they said, ‘Hey, we need someone who speaks Portuguese to do some Bloomberg report from Argentina to Brazil,’ so I said OK,” Elvira explained. “I speak Spanish and Portuguese so I can do the job.”
Elvira was with Bloomberg for about six months, working as both an on-screen reporter and then writing summaries behind the scenes for a pilot show that never got off the ground. She was laid off when the country fell into an economic crisis in 2002, and then decided to pursue golf. She’s been on the Futures circuit since 2008, and it might be one of the best decisions she ever made.
“My office used to be four walls, almost no window. … My four colleagues, they were shouting to each other, smoking – that was a mess compared to this,” Elvira said.
5.) The venue: The Futures Tour’s season ender is returning to Capital Hills for the fifth year in a row, and it’s the seventh time the developmental tour has made a stop in Albany, N.Y. The course will play to a par of 71 at 6,124 yards.