Halfway through LPGA's Q-Series, college teams prepare to take big hits

2016 - Ohio State’s Jaclyn Lee during the SunTrust Gator Women's Invite at Mark Bostick Golf Course in Gainesville, Fla.

Halfway through LPGA's Q-Series, college teams prepare to take big hits

College

Halfway through LPGA's Q-Series, college teams prepare to take big hits

Sleep doesn’t come easy these days for Therese Hession. The decorated Ohio State coach might lose her best player, senior Jaclyn Lee, to the professional ranks in a matter of days. And with a promising recruit joining the Buckeye’s roster in January, Hession’s team might drop from NCAA match-play contender to let’s-see-if-we-can-make regionals.

“She’s the lifeblood of our team right now,” said Hession of Lee. “You’re talking 25 to 30 shots a tournament effect on us.”

College players making the jump to the LPGA midseason is nothing new, but there could be an unprecedented fallout from the tour’s inaugural Q-Series. There are five college stars in the top 11 at the midway point of the eight-round marathon at Pinehurst. The top 45 and ties out of a field of 101 receive LPGA status for 2019. Those are far better odds than the old system, which had 20 full cards in a field of 150-plus players with a cut.

In the old system, the pecking order on the priority list went: top 20 players from Q-School, followed by Nos. 101-125 on the LPGA money list, followed by those who finished 21-45 at Q-School.

Now, those who finish 1-45 at Q-Series will be ahead of Nos. 101-125 on the money list.

Basically, whoever finishes 21st at the new Q-Series will be positioned 25 spots higher on the priority list than the same person who finished 21st in the old format.

Lee actually started at Stage I and worked her way to Pinehurst, absolutely crushing it at second stage. She’s now in solo second at Q-Series, four strokes behind Klara Spilkova.

Jennifer Kupcho (T-3), Lauren Stephenson (T-3) and Maria Fassi (T-7) were exempt into the final stage via their Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. Kristen Gillman (T-11) started in Stage II.

With four rounds to go, none of the amateurs in the field are completely out of it. UCLA’s Patty Tavatanakit and Lilia Vu certainly have the firepower to go low over the next four rounds.

Both Kupcho and Fassi have said they plan to defer their LPGA cards to after NCAAs should they finish in the top 45. With Arkansas hosting the NCAA Championship in May, Fassi wants to go out on top at home.

Head coach Shauna Estes-Taylor has heard time and time again from Fassi that she’s coming back, but plenty of people still ask.

“What other sport in the middle of their season has deal with this?” asked Estes-Taylor.

Maria Fassi accepts the 2018 ANNIKA Award at the 3M Innovation Center. (Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports)

If Hession isn’t getting much sleep, imagine how Alabama coach Mic Potter must feel. He has two first-team All-Americans on the cusp of earning their cards. The Tide were ranked No. 1 for much of the fall season and had the potential to become one of the all-time great teams in NCAA history. Now they could struggle to get out of regionals.

This is a team that broke the NCAA record for team score vs. par by four shots at the Schooner Fall Classic with an incredible 45-under total.

“This team is so good that you don’t even realize what they’re doing when it’s happening,” Potter said after that tournament.

If only it could last.

Without Gillman, a two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champ, and Stephenson, last year’s No. 1-ranked player, in the lineup at this week’s East Lake Cup, Alabama finished 26 strokes behind Stanford in stroke play and then got smoked again by the Cardinal in the semifinals of match play.

Hession competed in more than 250 tournaments on the LPGA. She understands what’s on the line for these players. She knows that at this time next year, Lee might not be lighting it up like she is this week. And if she defers til June, well, she’d have catch fire early to have a chance at keeping her card for what amounts to half a season.

“I hope to god that she’s in an even better place (next year) than she is right now,” said Hession, “but I also understand how this works – confidence ebbs and flows, and you might not be in the same place.”

Hession knows better than most why Lee might turn pro, but that isn’t helping her sleep at night.

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