2004: LPGA - Bounced Bastel now must bounce back

Emily Bastel played 918 holes on the Futures Tour this season, but she never struck a single shot on the hole she’ll remember most. After all her hard work, all the towns she visited across America, all the cuts she survived and the nine top 10s she posted, her fate for 2005 wasn’t even in her hands. It hung in the balance of a playoff between Malinda Johnson and Kris Tamulis at the tour’s final event a few weeks ago, the York (Pa.) Newspapers Classic.

In the end, Johnson won the playoff, and the winner’s check for $10,500 lifted her past Bastel for the fifth and final 2005 LPGA card doled out by the Futures Tour. By finishing in the top 15, Bastel will get to bypass the first stage of Qualifying School, but that wasn’t much of a consolation, especially when one considers the gap between her and Johnson was a paltry $252.

But if anyone can rebound from the disappointment, it’s Bastel. The 24-year-old from Upper Sandusky, Ohio, knows a thing or two about being challenged.

Lightly recruited out of high school, Bastel – a short hitter by today’s standards – shined at Michigan State for four seasons and was an All-American her senior year in 2002. That summer she was selected to play on the U.S. Curtis Cup team and later the Women’s World Amateur Team.

As much as she enjoyed those experiences, Bastel wasn’t sure where to go with her golf game. So with a Michigan State marketing degree in hand, she returned to her alma mater and became an assistant to women’s coach Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll.

“I wasn’t sure that professional golf was something I wanted to do yet,” Bastel said. “I wanted to make sure that I could be committed to pursuing a career in golf. So I watched for a year and I realized that I didn’t want to watch anymore. I wanted to get out there.”

Bastel played poorly at the final stage of Q-School last year but refocused during the winter. Although she didn’t win a Futures Tour event this year, she had one runner-up finish and three third places, and was one of the most consistent players on tour, averaging 71.71 strokes. But consistency wasn’t enough. Now Bastel will have to wait until the first week of December – more than three months after her final putt in York – to play in the final stage of Q-School, arguably her most important event of the year.

After such a long haul in 2004, Bastel didn’t even watch the playoff finish at York. Tamulis hit her approach 25 feet below the cup on the first playoff hole, and Johnson, a 22-year-old southpaw from Eau Claire, Wis., hit her sand wedge from 105 yards to 8 feet. At that point, Bastel quickly turned and walked into the clubhouse at Regent’s Glen Country Club because she didn’t want to witness the inevitable. Johnson sank the birdie putt to clip Tamulis – and in the process, Bastel.

Had Bastel finished the tournament two shots better – she bogeyed the final hole to shoot her second consecutive 74 after opening the tournament with a 71 – she would have finished fifth in earnings by $95.

“My goal for the week was to win so I wouldn’t have to worry about anything,” Bastel said. “So, yeah, I was disappointed with the way I played that week. But I told myself I wasn’t going to do ‘a shot here, a shot there,’ or I could go back to March and worry about it. If I did that, it would be very difficult to get over it.”

Johnson will have to wait even longer – nearly seven months in all – between tournament starts, but at least she secured an LPGA card to start the season anew in March. In the meantime, she is taking a few classes at the University of Wisconsin and will graduate in December with an art degree. Johnson was an All-American last season for the Badgers before joining the Futures Tour in late May.

As busy as she is, Johnson was prepared for more work prior to the final round in York.

“Honestly, I didn’t think much about winning to get my card,” she said. “My goal was just to make the top 15 (to earn a ticket to the final stage of Q-School). Emily has been solid all year. I didn’t feel like she’d falter.”

Bastel didn’t falter as much as Johnson seized the opportunity. In 12 events, Johnson had nine top 15s, including a runner-up performance the week before her first professional victory. She won nearly half the $35,356 she pocketed in 2004 in the final two weeks of the season.

After the tournament was over and the five LPGA cards had been awarded, Johnson found a clearly distraught Bastel, gave her a hug and said, “You’re a good player. You’ll be out there next year.”

Bastel appreciated the gesture. At the same time, she couldn’t help but be a touch jealous that the person consoling her was the same person who had snatched away the thing she had fought so hard to achieve.

“I didn’t get it done and it opened the door for people behind me,” Bastel said. “It’s heartbreaking, but I don’t feel like I lost any confidence because of it.

“I contended all season long, made every cut and was very consistent. Q-School isn’t until December, but I’ll be ready to go when it gets here.”

The Q-School finals are Dec. 1-5 in Daytona Beach, Fla. And with the current airfare wars, you can bet Bastel will get there for less than $252.

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