Walker-Cooper Captures First Victory

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Futures TourSEBRING, Fla. -- Non-exempt LPGA Tour player Lee Ann Walker-Cooper of Cary, N.C., fired a three-under-par 69 for a 211 (-5) to capture her first-ever professional victory at the Florida Hospital Futures Golf Classic in Sebring, Fla.
 
Fellow non-exempt LPGA Tour player and second-round leader Lisa Strom of Huntersville, N.C., shot a 73 (+1) for a 213 (-3) to finish in second alone. In third was Michele Vinieratos of Altamonte Springs, Fla., who shot a 73 (+1) for a 214 (-2) at the Sun N Lake Golf and Country Club.
 
Heavy rains and thunderstorms halted second-round play for a period of one hour and 50 minutes and play was suspended last night at 6:25 p.m. At that point, Walker-Cooper, who was tied for the first-round lead at 70 (-2), only completed 11 holes and returned this morning at 7:00 a.m. to finish the remainder of her round. She ended with a 72 (E) and was tied for fifth at two-under-par 142 heading into the final round, two shots behind Strom.
 
Two hours later, Walker-Cooper was on the course again, one group in front of Strom. She made steady pars until a birdie on the par four 386-yard seventh hole. She turned at three-under-par for the tournament and was trailing non-exempt LPGA Tour member Stacy Prammanasudh of Enid, Okla., by one shot. Prammanasudh started the day tied for second at three-under-par 141 and was playing in the same group as Strom.
 
On the back nine, Walker-Cooper made 12-foot birdie putt on 12, allowing her to take the outright lead for the first time at four-under-par. She followed up with another birdie on 16 and was holding a two-shot lead over Strom.
 
'I had no idea I was leading until I saw the leaderboard on 15,' beamed Walker-Cooper, who recorded one top-10 finish on the Futures Tour last year. 'I was pretty nervous, but I was handling it much better than I usually do. I was just being patient and trying not to get a head of myself. I just wanted to go out there and play consistent.'
 
Walker-Cooper bogeyed 17, but came back with a birdie on the par five 520-yard final hole, hitting her eight iron from 123 yards to six feet, to solidify her victory at five-under-par 211.
 
Strom headed into the final round with a one-shot lead at 140 (-4). She bogeyed one and eight and was two shots shy of Walker-Cooper at the turn. Strom made steady pars until a birdie on 16, sending her to three-under-par. She found herself within one shot of Walker-Cooper, who bogeyed 17, but was unable to catch the leader and finished with a 213 (-3).
 
'I knew I had to make that birdie putt on 18,' stated Walker-Cooper. 'Lisa is a very strong player and I would not have been surprised if she would have made an eagle on the final hole to tie me. I had 22 putts today and that was really the key to this win.'
 
Prammanasudh was leading on the front nine at four-under-par until she bogeyed 10 and 11, putting her two shots short of Walker-Cooper. She came back with a birdie on 13, but suffered two more bogeys on 15 and 17. Prammanasudh finished tied for fourth at 215 (-1) with Patti Rizzo of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Ju Kim of Seoul, Korea.
 
Last season, Walker-Cooper made $9,010 in 17 events. In two tournaments the year, she has already made $8,731 and has moved to second on the Futures Tour Money List. Walker-Cooper credits her success to her father, Joe Cooper and golf coach Ted Kiegiel of the Carolina Country Club.
 
The emotional 31-year-old Walker-Cooper commented, 'This victory means a lot to me. Ted and I have been working really hard on my game over the past three years and we have come a long way together.
 
'This win is dedicated to my dad. I have been playing golf since I was thirteen and if wasnt for my fathers faith and confidence in my ability, I would not be here where I am today. He has been with me through everything.'
 
Last October, Walker-Cooper returned to the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament and tied for 51st to re-gain non-exempt status for 2003 LPGA Tour. She was also member of the LPGA during 2000 and 2001 seasons.
 
After the upcoming Tampa Bays Next Generation Futures Golf Classic in Tampa, Fla., Walker-Coopers plans are to return home and Monday qualify for the upcoming LPGA Tour events, beginning with the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship hosted by Nancy Lopez in Stockbridge, Ga. However, with her first professional win under her belt, Walker-Coopers plans could change and she may choose to play in Futures Tour tournaments instead.
 
'This win has changed everything,' said Walker-Cooper. 'I have the confidence in myself to know that I can actually win out here. I am going to discuss it with my dad and determine what the next step is. Who knows, I might change my mind and head out to the Futures Tour tournament in Wichita and miss the LPGA tournaments. I have a lot to think about now.'