LPGA players look to Europe in 2010

Alison Walshe hits a tee shot during the 2009 LPGA Qualifying School on the Legends Course in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Alison Walshe hits a tee shot during the 2009 LPGA Qualifying School on the Legends Course in Daytona Beach, Fla.

And for Christmas, Alison Walshe graciously accepted treasured gifts – rest and snowboard wax.

Doesn’t sound like much? Well, when you’ve just played 12 1/2 rounds of golf in less than three weeks on both sides of the Atlantic, rest is a priceless commodity. As for the snowboard wax? For a New Englander, it’s a great way to make the time off go downhill with greater pleasure.

“It was a grind, but I’m totally glad I did it,” Walshe said of her whirlwind golf experience. It began Dec. 2 with the final stage of LPGA qualifying. Having earned 2010 LPGA tour status via her ninth-place finish on the Futures Tour money list, Walshe entered Q-School with hopes of improving her category.

Five days and 367 strokes later, that quest had failed with a share of 54th place, but it offered Walshe a clear view of the bigger picture.

Which included a trip to Spain.

“Even with full-time status (on the LPGA tour in 2010), there won’t be a lot of playing opportunities,” Walshe said. “There’ll only be something like 13 full-field events.”

So after a brief orientation for LPGA rookies in Daytona Beach, Fla., Walshe headed to Spain for the Dec. 14 start of a Ladies European Tour Q-School pre-qualifier.

If you’re thinking it shows a side of Walshe that is to be admired, take note that it has always defined her competitive fire. Consider her collegiate trail, which began at Boston College, not far from her hometown of Westford, Mass. While she was close to home at a premier college, Walshe determined that she needed a warmer climate to challenge her passion for golf, so in 2004-05 she headed to Tulane as a sophomore.

Just weeks into her junior year, Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on New Orleans, so that 2005-06 school year became a nightmare. Relocated to Dallas to take classes on the campus of Southern Methodist University, Walshe and her teammates were left to fend for themselves when women’s golf was dropped by Tulane. It led Walshe to transfer to the University of Arizona, where she had two standout seasons.

Such an odyssey prepared Walshe for the pro golf life that is glamorous for only a small percentage of players, but a labor of love for most. Walshe shot 71-70-73–214 to finish joint sixth and breeze through the pre-qualifier, which ushered her directly into the final stage – with just one day to rest and catch her breath.

“The weather was horrendous – cold, rainy and windy,” Walshe said. “I was 11 holes into one round when we got called in off the course, and that round ended up getting washed out.”

Walshe wound up firing rounds of 68-79-70-75 to finish tied for 21st and secure status on the LET for 2010.

“I think it’s important to have (playing) options, because there are gaps in the LPGA tour schedule where you would have six weeks off,” Walshe said.

She wasn’t alone in this decision, either, because fellow Americans Kim Welch, Diana D’Alessio and Mallory Blackwelder all did the Daytona Beach-to-Spain trek that incorporated three tournaments and a dozen rounds of golf.

The end result is, Walshe can start preparing a 2010 schedule that will require serious use of her passport. Not eligible for the LPGA opener in Thailand, Walshe said she would instead play the first three LET tournaments of the season starting in late February – one in New Zealand, two in Australia. Then she would head back to the United States, hopefully for the LPGA Tour Classic in Carlsbad, Calif.

If that chance doesn’t present itself, Walshe also has options on the Duramed Futures Tour. That even further hits at her point that playing chances are at a premium. Consider that the LPGA currently has one tournament scheduled for March, two in April and just one in May.

Understandable, then, that Walshe and others are focused on LET events, even those that take them halfway around the world. If the competition won’t come to her, she is prepared to go to the competition.

After, of course, some rest and New England snowboarding.

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