Symetra notes: Eaton builds on newfound freedom

Melissa Eaton

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. –– What a difference a year has made for Melissa Eaton.

The 28-year-old South African’s personal life turned right-side up this season, resulting in a maiden victory on the Symetra Tour in March. An eagle on the 54th hole gave her a three-stroke victory at the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic in Winter Haven, Fla.

Now, with only one event left and 10 cards on the line, Eaton sits in 12th place on the money list entering the Symetra Tour Championship, which began Thursday.

“I’m feeling humbled,” Eaton Tweeted after the win. “A year ago I made a very difficult decision and honestly never anticipated I'd achieve all I have up to this point.”

That difficult decision was to get a divorce last August. Eaton’s ex-husband proposed to her at a Symetra Tour event in Louisiana in 2009 and they wed in ’10. But as the years went by she began to realize that while he was always supportive, they simply weren’t compatible.

“He just needed someone with him all the time,” said Eaton. “I’m a very independent person.”

While Eaton said the golf course had been her “little peace place” while married, the tears flowed often after the round.

Eaton feared leaving her husband and his financial backing would force her to quit the Symetra Tour and move back home to South Africa. But a wealthy Houston oil executive stepped up and sponsored her, allowing her to continue her quest for an LPGA card.

Eaton moved from Texas to Mandeville, La., to live with a South African family she had met in college at LSU. Eaton has a flat on the side of the house and the family’s generosity enabled her to start fresh, creating new memories in this next phase of life.

Eaton, whose twin sister Nicola played on the Symetra Tour for a short time, shot 1-over 73 at the LPGA International’s Jones Course (formerly Champions Course).

Four players have topped the tour’s money list this season, including Eaton. P.K. Kongkraphan currently leads the way at $43,848. Only the top two players on the money list are mathematically safe to earn their cards for 2014.

• • •

NO PAIN, NO GAME: Catherine O’Donnell lost far more than her appendix this season. The Symetra rookie has dropped 60 pounds since the start of the season, thanks to a low-carb diet and three months of no alcohol.

“It’s so much easier,” said O’Donnell. “My endurance level is so much better.”

The UNC grad got a scare in Richmond last month. Her father Michael, CEO of Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, joined her in Virginia that Wednesday to caddie and took her to the urgent care that Thursday morning. By that night, she was having surgery to have her appendix removed.

She took two weeks off to recover and then practiced two more before showing up to Reunion last week. On Monday, she went back to the hospital and found out she had a kidney infection.

Despite not being able to eat solid food all week, O’Donnell managed to make the cut.

On Thursday in Daytona, O’Donnell opened with a 1-under 71 thanks for a flurry of three birdies on the last four holes. She’s currently 35th on the money list.

“I don’t have any kidney pain anymore,” O’Donnell said. “But my energy is still lacking.”

Tonight she’ll dine at Ruth’s Chris with several other players. Her entree of choice: the ribeye.

• • •

CLANTON RECOMMITTED: When some college coaching opportunities came Cydney Clanton’s way earlier this year, she did some thinking. Was it time for the third-year pro to consider something new?

Then something unexpected happened: She won.

A victory at the Four Winds Invitational in June prompted Clanton to recommit to getting back to the LPGA.

“OK, now I know where I’m supposed to be,” she said.

Last Sunday’s final-round at the Volvik Championship helped solidify that decision. A closing 65 left the former Auburn All-American walking tall as she carried her own bag. She moved into third place on the money list and looks solid for securing a card after an opening 70.

• • •

SHORT SHOTS: Giulia Molinaro vaulted up the money list from seventh to 13th with a third-place finish last week at the Volvik Championship. The move pumped the Italian with a confidence that carried over into this week’s event. She opened the season-ending tournament with a 70 and is tied for eighth. . . . Only one player on tour has been in the top 10 the entire season. Jaclyn Sweeney won the year’s first event to top the money list and currently sits in 10th after missing there consecutive cuts. . . . Recent Purdue grad Paula Reto leads the field at 5-under 67. She’s 63rd on the money list after playing in six events. The South African tied for sixth last week for her career-best finish. . . . Victoria Lovelady dropped her maiden name of Alimonda earlier this month after using both names the last several years. The Brazilian met her husband Jacob in college at USC and the couple lives in Colombia. Lovelady wasn’t sure if she made the right decision, but one thing is certain: It’s a name that’s impossible to forget.

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