DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Garrett Phillips’ arrival at the first stage of LPGA Q-School couldn’t have been much more different than her younger competitors Moriya Jutanugarn and Jaye Marie Green, both 18. Phillips, 26, is coming off a year in which she took a “forced break” from the game. In 2011, Phillips had two tour cards – for the Symetra Tour and the Ladies European Tour – but all of a sudden in 2012, she had none.
“It’s been really nice to take a break,” said Phillips, a former Augusta State and University of Georgia player. She shot a final-round 70 to finish at 14-under 274, runner-up to Jutanugarn by a shot. They led 62 players (top 60 and ties) who advance to second stage of Q-School on Oct. 9-12 at Plantation Golf and Country Club in Venice, Fla.
Jutanugarn and Green, meanwhile, are at the end of a loaded summer schedule of junior and amateur events. By the end of four rounds at LPGA International, the fatigue showed in their faces.
Phillips towered over the other two members of her group on Friday – she’s easily a foot taller than Jutanugarn. She wasn’t surprised by the young ages in her final-round pairing because she’s been around long enough to know that the first stage is when the newbies show up. Still, Phillips is happy to be playing again.
When asked when she played her last competitive round, Phillips answered this way: “Do qualifiers count?”
Aside from a U.S. Women’s Open qualifier early in the summer, the only tournament golf she has played lately were the two SunCoast Ladies Series events staged at LPGA International in the weeks leading up to first stage. She needed those to get back in the rhythm, even though she has spent a considerable amount of the past year practicing.
Originally from St. Simons Island, Ga., Phillips moved to Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., in February to live with friend Henry Bishop and his family. She plays golf frequently with Bishop’s 16-year-old son Jack, and practices out of Sawgrass Country Club. St. Simons Island, where longtime swing coach Hank Smith teaches at Frederica Township, is only an hour-and-a-half drive.
“It’s a golf family, and I’ve never really had that,” Phillips said of the Bishops.
Phillips also got to go on the Bishops’ family vacation to the Bahamas earlier this summer. It was the last hurrah before another go at competitive golf. That week included deep-sea fishing, snorkeling and paddle-boarding. It cleared her head.
Jutanugarn, meanwhile, cleared her head in Los Angeles. After the U.S. Amateur, she went back to stay with family friend Varuth Pholwannabha and work with swing coach Craig Chapman. Jutanugarn said she spent nearly an entire week on the range with Chapman. After bowing out in the first round of match play at the U.S. Women’s Amateur, Jutanugarn said her swing was “so bad.”
“I told my mom I’m nervous,” Jutanugarn said of the week she spent practicing at LPGA International leading up to first stage. “I want to make (the top) 60 and go back to practice.”
She easily accomplished that, and now is looking forward to more time on the West Coast. Younger sister Ariya was in Daytona Beach, too, riding on the cart beside Moriya and acting more as moral support than caddie. Ariya soon will return home to Thailand before playing the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia on Oct. 11-14.
Moriya just sighs at the thought, revealing a little homesickness. If there were one thing she would want Ariya to send from home, she says, it would be a bowl of noodles from her favorite restaurant near their home. Sadly, it wouldn’t survive the shipping.
As for Green, there’s a bit of fatigue in her voice, too, as she explains that her next stop will be the Symetra Classic in Charlotte, N.C. Green finished as part of a three-way tie with recent college graduates Brooke Pancake (Alabama) and Marta Silva (Georgia) after a final-round 73. In sweltering heat, and with not much on the line after safely positioning herself among the top 60 players to advance, Green had trouble focusing.
“I just tried to let loose, tried to hit it good coming in,” said Green, who recently was runner-up to Lydia Ko at the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
If second stage goes as easily as first stage, she’ll return to Daytona Beach at the end of November with a little more pressure. That’s when a tour card is on the line. There is no such thing as a low-key final round, but Green might have an advantage.
“I know if I do well in second stage, third stage will be back here,” she said.
And LPGA International agrees with her.