For many Futures Tour players, the Price Chopper Tour Championship is a make-or-break career moment. Put Sydnee Michaels in that category, though it could be argued that Michaels’ career got the biggest boost two weeks ago in Vidalia, Ga.
Michaels won the penultimate event on this season’s Futures Tour Schedule, the Vidalia Championship, to climb from 13th to fifth on the tour’s money list. At the Tour Championship, she needed only to maintain her top-5 position to gain Category 9 status on the LPGA for 2012.
The 23-year-old Michaels hung near the top of the leaderboard through the first 36 holes and entered Sunday’s final round at Capital Hills in Albany, N.Y., four shots off the pace set by leader Jackie Barenborg. Michaels shot a bogey-free 65 – the lowest of the tournament with runner-up Jessi Gebhardt – to win by a single shot at 8-under 202.
“I didn’t look at the leaderboard the whole round, I didn’t know I was leading or anything,” Michaels said of the final round. “I was just trying to focus.”
Michaels had four consecutive birdies starting at No. 5. She made a 30-footer for birdie at No. 6 – which she calls her longest made putt of the tournament – and nearly holed out with her 7-iron at the 156-yard, par-3 seventh.
She acknowledges how much the win in Vidalia set her up for Tour Championship success.
“I had some pressure lifted off of me because I did win and I was way up there (on the money list),” she said. “… It launched me up there and this week I tried to go into it thinking not trying to hold onto my lead but let’s go for the third or fourth spot.”
Michaels is in her rookie season on the Futures Tour after graduating from UCLA in 2010. Her back-to-back wins to end the season were her first on the Futures Tour, but she ended last summer’s amateur campaign by winning the Canadian Amateur and advancing to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
She’s feeling more like a pro these days, too. Not just because of her newly acquired LPGA status – “It’s such a huge relief,” – but also because of a full-time caddie she employed for the first time at The International at Concord (N.H.).
“I notoriously mess up on my yardages or something so I airmail greens – just stupid stuff, silly stuff,” she said. “It’s nice to just have that extra brain.”
Michaels played every event on the Futures Tour this season, and isn’t sure where the road will take her next – after a day to celebrate in New York City, there will be some time for rest in the near future.
“Out here, it’s week after week after week – you’re putting for your dinner,” she explained. “I learned how to grind and I learned how to win on tour.”
By that logic, Sunday night’s meal should have been a hearty one.
Futures Tour graduates:
1.) Kathleen Ekey of Sharon Township, Ohio
2.) Lisa Ferrero of Lodi, Calif.
3.) Mo Martin of Altadena, Calif.
4.) Sydnee Michaels of Temecula, Calif.
4.) Jane Rah of Torrance, Calif.
6.) Tiffany Joh of San Diego, Calif.
7.) Valentine Derrey of Paris, France
8.) Hanna Kang of Seoul, South Korea
9.) Jenny Gleason of Clearwater, Fla.
10.) Tzu-Chi Lin of Chinese Taipei