LPGA Q-Series leaves college golfers with many tough decisions

United States of America team members Kristen Gillman, (left), and Jennifer Kupcho embrace at the 18th green, during the third round of stroke play at the 2018 Women's World Amateur Team at Carton House Golf Club in Dublin, Ireland on Friday, Aug. 31, 2018. (Copyright USGA/Steven Gibbons) Copyright USGA/Steven Gibbons

LPGA Q-Series leaves college golfers with many tough decisions

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LPGA Q-Series leaves college golfers with many tough decisions

Colorado coach Anne Kelly and her assistant, Brent Franklin, were at the airport when Robyn Choi came down the stretch in the final round of LPGA Q-Series. They had decided she needed to birdie two of the last four holes to post a number that would hold up in the afternoon. Choi birdied the 16th before they boarded a plane bound for Hawaii. Shortly before takeoff, she birdied the 18th.

Cue the flood of mixed emotions.

Here’s a player who finished her first season at Colorado with a 75.64 scoring average. Kelly calls Choi the hardest-working player she’s coached, a total team player who under the guidance of Franklin dropped that average by more than four strokes in two-and-a-half years. Choi isn’t shy on her college bio about listing her goals: Turn pro and rise to No. 1 in the world.

But even she didn’t expect that first part to come so fast.

Choi said she signed up for Q-Series to have a reference point of where she needed to be by her senior year. When she finished in a tie for 45th at Pinehurst, earning her card by a single shot, the Aussie didn’t make a decision on the spot. Instead she followed her team to Hawaii, where she tied for fifth.

Several weeks later Choi informed Kelly that she planned to accept LPGA status. The conversation went better than Choi expected.

“I just can’t hold her back,” Kelly said.

Of the seven college players who earned LPGA cards for 2019, five will turn professional and forgo their spring semesters. Only Jennifer Kupcho (above left) of Wake Forest and Arkansas’ Maria Fassi have decided to defer until after the NCAA postseason.

Alabama’s Kristen Gillman (above right) and Lauren Stephenson knew immediately that they planned to turn professional. UCLA’s Lilia Vu wanted to finish her final credits during the winter quarter and join the LPGA in March.

Like Choi, Ohio State’s Jaclyn Lee needed extra time to weigh her options. When she returned to campus after Q-Series, director of golf Therese Hession had organized a surprise party.

Potentially losing a 70.1 scoring average for the spring season, with a strong recruit coming in January, would put an enormous damper on the Buckeyes’ postseason run. Still, Hession wanted to mark the occasion.

“I had to put my personal desires aside,” she said. “I wanted it to be a moment she’d remember.”

After Thanksgiving break, Lee told Hession that she planned to start her LPGA career in February.

“It was actually really complicated for me,” said Lee, who wanted to play one final event for OSU in California to try to set up the team well for the spring. But paying LPGA membership dues to be eligible for two early-season events in Australia, not to mention the additional hoops international players must jump through to obtain a working visa, made that farewell tournament unlikely. In the end, Lee decided it best that whoever replaced her for the spring got in as many reps as possible.

“I do think I’m ready,” Lee said of being an LPGA rookie.

While in Columbus, Lee grew into the strongest mental player Hession has coached in 28 years. That’s largely what propelled her through 16 rounds of qualifying.

On the first day of practice last January, Hession spent one-on-one time with each of her players. When it came time for Lee to hop into coach’s car and head down to the range, they never actually made it out of the car. For 90 minutes they talked about self-belief. Hession thought Lee’s fundamentals were above average. It was work between the ears that would take her to the next level.

“I don’t think kids understand how important that is,” Hession said of being mentally strong. “She was as good as anyone I’ve ever had.”

As for replacing Lee in the immediate future, Hession doesn’t see that she has many options. She’ll instead focus on developing the talent that’s already on the roster for next semester and look to the future.

Similarly, UCLA coach Carrie Forsyth told Vu that she couldn’t take up a spot in the lineup next quarter if she wasn’t going to play in the postseason. Forsyth needs that time to develop the two walk-ons who will vie for the fifth spot.

Both Kelly and Forsyth said they’d like to see Q-Series limited to professionals only.

“This is what we hope for for our athletes,” Forsyth said. “That they can achieve their dreams and goals. I just wish that these things could wait until after graduation and eligibility is done.” Gwk

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