Futures pros look to lock up LPGA cards

Samantha Richdale will finish in the top 5 on the Duramed Futures Tour money list this season.

Samantha Richdale will finish in the top 5 on the Duramed Futures Tour money list this season.

As much as I’ve used this space to express displeasure over those who leave college mid-season to turn pro, Anna Nordqvist and Mina Harigae quite obviously didn’t need my advice. Nordqvist won a major and looked solid at the Solheim Cup; Harigae won three times on the Duramed Futures Tour and leads the money list.

Harigae ditched Duke after one semester and enters the season-ending ILOVENY Championship with $83,485. She isn’t a lock to win the money title, but only a Jean Reynolds victory can stop her.

While the fast-track stories are often sexier than traditional routes, this year’s Duramed money list looks good for those diploma-toting twentysomethings. College wasn’t a waste.

The top 10 money leaders earn LPGA status for 2010, and as it now stands, seven of those players finished school. They’ll treat Sept. 6 like another Graduation Day, hoisting an over-sized LPGA card that’s worth, well, no one is really sure what it’s worth next season, but they’ve worked hard to get it.

Samantha Richdale locked up her LPGA card with a victory Aug. 23 at the Turkey Hill Classic. With a guaranteed top-5 finish, the Illinois State graduate can think of at least one other place she’d rather be than Albany, N.Y.

“I’d definitely rather be in Calgary,” said Richdale, who was offered a sponsor exemption to play in this week’s CN Canadian Women’s Open. Harigae, Reynolds, Misun Cho and Richdale will finish in the top 5 regardless of what happens this week. The winner in Albany gets $15,400, meaning only No. 5 Whitney Wade can be knocked out.

Richdale, 25, was born in Calgary and lived in Alberta for 13 years. She made the cut in last year’s Canadian Open, and the experience changed her life. Because the Futures Tour requires all card winners to be on site for the awards presentation/photo-op Sunday evening in Albany, Richdale had to turn down this year’s invitation.

Apparently, Photoshop wasn’t an option.

Richdale learned the game from her father, Glen, a former scratch golfer who retired from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. She grew up playing golf in the summers and ringette in the winters. Ringette is “kind of like hockey, but not exactly.”

“I haven’t met anybody in the U.S. who has heard of it,” she said, making a Florida-based sports writer feel less embarrassed.

Several factors went into Richdale’s ascent as a pro. The most decorated player in Illinois State history, Richdale came to the Futures Tour in 2006 with 10 college titles to her credit. She didn’t crack the top 10 until 2008 and only once that season. She traded dad’s instruction for Craig Harmon’s in 2007 and added a sports psychologist midway through 2009. A fortunate pro-am pairing last season in Ohio landed her a sponsor, meaning she is one of the few players on tour with a full-time caddie.

“They were looking to help somebody out,” said Richdale of Prasco, a pharmaceutical company out of Mason, Ohio. Before then, mom and dad carried the load.

The financial help eased Richdale’s tension and allowed things to come a bit easier. Still, if a card wasn’t in reach, Richdale began to wonder if it was time to dust off that chemistry degree.

“Getting that card came at a perfect time,” she said.

Richdale is one of only four players who reside on Easy Street this week. Most are clawing their way into position, desperate to get as high as possible.

Alison Walshe needs her first victory to come this week, and she’s thinking of little else. The All-American is eighth on the money list, which does little to ensure playing time next season.

“I’m here to get things done,” Walshe said in a text message. “I’m here to win.”

Because, while there’s no place Walshe would rather be this week than Albany, she certainly doesn’t want to come back.

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