Prange won the $75,000 Horseshoe Casino FUTURES Golf Classic in her home state, carding rounds of 71-71-72 for a two-under-par total of 214 (-2) to edge runner-up Lori Atsedes of Ithaca, N.Y., at 215 (-1) at the water-surrounded Lost Marsh Golf Course. The fact that she passed up trying to qualify for this week's U.S. Women's Open Championship was a tactical move by Prange.
By winning the Tour's second tournament of the season in Tampa, Fla., back in March, Prange was exempt from local Open qualifying. She mailed in her check and application for the Open's sectional qualifying, but a week before the tournament and after careful consideration, she withdrew. Prange weighed the timing of this week's Indiana event with the overlapping date of the U.S. Women's Open.
In fact, 17 players missed this week's Tour event in Indiana because they competed in the Open. And six additional Tour members skipped the last two weeks of tournament play to film The Golf Channel's Big Break VI show in Los Angeles. Prange reasoned that if she planned to make a late-season charge on the Tour's money list, now was the time to do it with seven tournaments remaining and several players in the top 10 out of town.
'I knew I needed a good finish and I believed I could capitalize on a week when a lot of players were not here,' said Prange, 24, of Noblesville, Ind. 'My first and foremost goal right now is to get my LPGA Tour card by finishing in the top five on our money list.'
Prange's savvy planning and patient play this week allowed her to jump from No. 9 to No. 3 on the Tour's current money list with her winner's check of $10,500. And it gave her momentum on a tour where a little more than $1,500 separates No. 5 from No. 6 on the money list -- or to be more specific, the difference between earning a fully exempt 2007 LPGA Tour card and a pass to the LPGA's Final Qualifying Tournament.
It actually took the shock of missing the tournament cut during the same week that she won the Big Break V show to shake the former University of North Carolina All-American back to reality. After riding the crescendo of the popular TV show's win on a Tuesday night, Prange found herself walking around in the parking lot at the Tucson tournament on Saturday with tears in her eyes. Missing the 36-hole tournament cut was a blow to a newly elevated confidence level.
But it also was a warning to Prange that no matter what kind of perks and accolades she had been the recipient of, there was still business to take care of as a member of the Tour.
'I had to step back and be critical of myself and look at how I was preparing or not preparing for tournaments,' she said. 'Big Break V was two weeks out of my life, but to win out here takes all of the practice I've put in for my entire life. The show was an amazing experience and I'll take so much from that with me, but I still have the goal to make it to the next level and there are certain things I have to do to get there.'
A new venue for this Northwest Indiana tournament, presented by South Shore Sports Promotions, Lost Marsh posed numerous problems for the field with water hazards on all but two holes of the par-72, 6,245-yard tract that was once a waste by-products dump from nearby steel mills in Gary, Ind. The reclaimed land, which serves as an oasis in the middle of a highly industrial area and in view of the downtown Chicago skyline, demonstrated its tough side Saturday when winds blew up to 38 mph. The combination of high winds and abundant water hazards showed impatient players the gate early.
But Prange hung tough and stayed patient when the momentum seemed to swing in the favor of Atsedes, who held a two-shot lead after 12 holes in today's final round. The turning point came on No. 13. Prange pulled her drive left and hit a tree. Her ball landed in an area where she was allowed a free drop. From there, she knocked her shot to within three feet and tapped in to save par.
'That's when the momentum switched to Ashley,' said Atsedes, the veteran who owns six Tour wins. 'And I think having her dad on her bag today kept her where she needed to be.'
Prange birdied the 14th to draw even with Atsedes. And then Atsedes' approach into No. 15 kicked over the green and she failed to get up and down for par. Prange inched ahead with a one-shot lead on the 15th and never looked back.
Rookie In-Bee Park of Las Vegas fired a three-under-par final-round score of 69 to make a run at the lead, but finished third at even-par 216. Cortney Reno (74) of Grosse Ile, Mich., was at even par until she triple-bogeyed the last hole with a three-putt green to drop back into a tie for seventh at 219 (+3).
That left Prange only with the task of finishing what she started three rounds and 10 tournaments ago. She two-putted from 16 feet for par and earned her second season win.
'She got a little distracted for a while, but now Ashley's back on track,' said her dad Bob Prange, director of instruction at the Bridgewater Club in Westfield, Ind., and swing coach for his daughter. 'This validates that she has the ability to win and to win more regularly if the preparation level is correct.'
As for the younger Prange, winning at home in front of a home-state gallery was more than she had hoped for in a year that already has been full of highlights. And with a week off, followed by seven more events, Prange says she is recharged and ready to finish the 2006 season strong.
'Patience isn't one of my best virtues,' she said. 'But if I continue to work hard and prepare myself each week, I believe I'll continue to see results.'