Averyhardt looking for historic end at Q-School

Shasta Averyhardt reads a putt during Round 2 of LPGA Q-School.

Shasta Averyhardt reads a putt during Round 2 of LPGA Q-School.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Shasta Averyhardt glanced at the morning paper while getting her clubs regripped on Monday and noticed the historic news: Joseph Bramlett became the first black golfer in 25 years to earn a PGA Tour card though Q-School. She doesn’t know Bramlett personally, but the news struck a chord of excitement.

Averyhardt now is in position to make her own news splash. Through two rounds at LPGA Q-School, Averyhardt has a chance to become the first black golfer on the LPGA since LaRee Sugg in 2001. 

“I feel like I’m starting to believe it and trust my game,” Averyhardt said.

Last year, the Flint, Mich., native played in Q-School for the first time and finished an abysmal 96th, shooting 79-75-78-75. Mentally, she wasn’t close to being prepared for this stage.

She’s tied for seventh after a 1-under 71 Dec. 9 on a windswept Legends Course at LPGA International. The top 20 here after five grueling rounds earn tour cards for 2011. 

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Shasta Averyhardt

“Last year, I was assuming that I had to be perfect, and I wasn’t,” she said.

At 6 feet, 1 inch, the svelte Averyhardt often is mistaken for a basketball or volleyball player. (She played the latter in high school.) It’s also assumed that she models, which makes her a perfect fit for an apparel company down the line, should her game catch up with her looks.

Like many girls, Averyhardt tagged along with her father, Greg, to the course and at age 7 began teeing it up in the five-hole division of the Flint Junior Golf League. She quit golf for a brief point to concentrate on volleyball, but her mother, Maria Espinoza, persuaded her to go back to golf. At Jackson State, Averyhardt won the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship four times and turned professional after graduating with an accounting degree. 

Sponsorships, even for someone as marketable and congenial as Averyhardt, are nearly impossible to get without a tour card or first-class resume. After months of banging on doors, Averyhardt found the help she needed in Sisters Across America, an organization dedicated to helping a minority player get on the LPGA. A couple of the “sisters” were out watching Averyhardt play the first round in Daytona Beach. Her parents were unable to make the trip from Michigan.

With the financial help of Sisters Across America, Averyhardt was able to play on the Duramed Futures Tour. It was a lackluster year for Averyhardt, who missed the cut five times in 10 events, her highest finish a T-23 in Rancho Viejo, Texas. Her scoring average, 74.20, suggested more work needed to be done.

“It’s just been a fight all year,” she said.

Averyhardt quit her job in the cart barn at The Legacy in Orlando and bounced around, practicing wherever they’d let her. She doesn’t have the money for a membership, which is something she’ll try to request from the Sisters for next year. 

Joe Connolly, an LPGA caddie known as Coffee Joe, has been looping on tour for 37 years. He hadn’t been out to Q-School in a decade but made a return this week after a mutual acquaintance suggested him to Averyhardt. Connolly is impressed with the patience his player has shown this week, the ultimate compliment to a player who has worked hard on the mental side.

Averyhardt doesn’t have the power game of someone such as LPGA star Michelle Wie, who also is 6-1. But Averyhardt can get it out there 260-280, depending on conditions. Connolly also has been impressed with Averyhardt’s maturity level, noting she’s on time and focused every day at work. 

“Maybe a few pleasantries, but no extended conversations,” he said. “That’s the key.”

It’s all business this week for Averyhardt. The business of making history.

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