DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Julia Boland tapped in a putt for par at the 18th hole of LPGA International’s Champions Course, then retreated to the rear of the green. In at 11-over 299, she imagined she had fallen one, maybe two shots short of where she needed to be, and alternated between staring skyward in frustration and crouching with her hands on her knees as the rest of her group putted out.
Welcome to cut day at the final stage of LPGA Qualifying School, where the pressure is in not knowing where, exactly, you stand on a rapidly changing leaderboard. Boland would later find out that she made the cut to the top 70 and ties with one shot to spare.
Boland, of Tamworth, Australia, turned professional the Saturday preceding Q-School, which also happened to be her 26th birthday. She had spent the past year completing her master’s degree in exercise physiology at Texas A&M while volunteer coaching the women’s golf team. Boland finished second to 17-year-old Ginger Howard at Stage II of Q-School, which was a decidedly different experience from this week.
“As an amateur, you’re nervous when you’re coming close to winning but it’s completely different as a pro when you’re nervous coming close to a cut line,” she said.
Boland bounced all around the cut line Saturday, which eventually fell at 12 over. Starting at No. 9, she birdied four of her next five holes, which significantly helped her cause. Part of that could be a result of her Aggie coaching duties, where she learned a lot about keeping a level head on the course.
“When you see players in a bad mood and you try to help them out, you just realize how much that’s not helping them,” she said. “And then you try to do it yourself and you try to sort of (say), ‘OK, I recognize what I’m doing.’ and hopefully you’re a litlte bit better at overcoming adversity.”
Boland wasn’t alone in barely advancing to Sunday’s fifth and final round. Shasta Averyhardt, who tied for 22nd at Q-School last year to earn Category 16 status and become only the fourth black player in history to earn LPGA membership, was at 12 over. So was 17-time Q-School participant Nicole Jeray.
Boland’s fellow Australian Alison Whitaker, a former Duke standout who finished T-22 at the final stage of Q-School a year ago but failed to make the cut in seven LPGA tour starts in 2011, was not so lucky. She finished T-103 at 17 over. Among other notable players left outside the cut line were Brianna Do, a UCLA senior and the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links champion; Anya Alvarez, a recent Washington graduate who made the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open this summer (her first LPGA start); Natalie Sheary, a recent Wake Forest graduate who won Futures Tour Qualifying School in 2010 before the LPGA streamlined the qualifying process; and recent Big Break contestants Mallory Blackwelder and Nicole Smith.
Perhaps the biggest surprises were at the bottom of the leaderboard, where Libby Smith, who led through three rounds of Q-School last year before shooting a final-round 82, finished last of the 138 players who completed four rounds. She shot 46-over 334.
One spot above her was Kimberly Kim, a former standout amateur who became the youngest winner of the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2006 at the age of 14. Kim opened with an 89, and followed with rounds of 79-78-79.
At Q-School, anything can happen.