LPGA card provides inside track to Olympics


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Gaby Lopez’s dream radiates beyond the LPGA at Q-School this week.

If she wins an LPGA card, Lopez can move into the fast lane in her bid to represent her beloved Mexico at the Olympics next summer. That’s because LPGA membership is more than a fast pass for so many international golfers looking to represent their countries in Rio de Janeiro next August. It’s a hyper-speed pass to the Olympics. That’s because Rolex Women’s World Ranking points are used as the qualification standard for Olympic women’s golf, and the LPGA offers so many more world-ranking points than any other tour in the women’s game, disproportionately more than the PGA Tour offers over other tours in the men’s game.

Just ask Israel’s Laetitia Beck how well the LPGA’s fast pass works.

Beck didn’t have a single Rolex world rankings point starting her LPGA rookie season earlier this year. She seemed a long shot to make the Olympics. And yet, 10 months after making her first LPGA start, Beck is in prime position to make it to Rio de Janeiro. If the Olympic women’s field were decided today, Beck would qualify.

Beck soared inside the Olympic qualifying standard this year despite a ho-hum LPGA rookie season that saw her record one top-20 finish while placing 111th on the LPGA money list. She’s back at Q-School this week looking to keep her Olympic dream alive.

“What I’m doing now, it’s about representing my country and being able to fly our flag next to my name wherever I go,” Beck told GolfChannel.com. “Being the first player from Israel to play the LPGA tour put our flag on a big stage. Obviously, the Olympics are an even bigger stage. It’s a greater opportunity to put Israel on golf’s map. For me, it’s exciting.”

Beck is a perfect example of how the LPGA has become the Autobahn highway to the Olympics.

The average LPGA event offers about four times more world-ranking points than the average Ladies European Tour event and about three times as many world-ranking points as the average Japan or Korean LPGA event. The average PGA Tour event doesn’t offer anything close to that differential with the average European Tour event.

Lopez is an amateur, but her Olympic dream led her to the final stage of LPGA Q-School this week with an eye on turning pro a year earlier than she expected. She’s a senior at the University of Arkansas who finished runner-up at the NCAA Women’s Championship last spring.

“My ultimate goal is to play in the Olympics for Mexico,” Lopez said after making a strong start Wednesday at Q-School, posting a 4-under-par 68 to move into a tie for fifth, three shots off the lead. “I know the best path to the Olympics is through the LPGA, to get Rolex ranking points.”

Lopez said she will turn pro at week’s end if she earns LPGA membership. If she falls short and earns only Symetra Tour membership, she may return to the University of Arkansas.

“I haven’t made that decision yet,” Lopez said. “My coach and my family and I will make a smart decision with our minds and our hearts. I know I have the support of the University of Arkansas and coach Shawna [Estes-Taylor]. She has been a huge part of my development.”

How realistic is Lopez’s bid to make the Olympics?

She’s already on the cusp of qualifying.

The top 60 players on the International Golf Federation’s Olympic women’s rankings as of July 11 will qualify. Those rankings are based on the Rolex Women’s World Rankings but adjusted based on eligibility.

Only two players per country are eligible for the golf competition at the Olympics. However, if players are ranked among the top 15 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, the top four from a country can qualify. That’s how Beck can be as low as No. 347 in the Rolex rankings but No. 54 in the IGF Olympic rankings. A lot of players who are ranked ahead of her in the Rolex rankings aren’t eligible.

Brazil’s Victoria Lovelady currently holds the 60th and final Olympic spot into the women’s field, but she’s guaranteed that spot because Brazil is the Olympic host country. So Colombia’s Lisa McCloskey actually holds the last qualifying spot in the IGF Olympic ranking. McCloskey is No. 59 in the IGF Olympic women’s ranking and No. 437 in the Rolex rankings. Lopez is No. 443 in the Rolex rankings.

Limiting the number of players per country who can qualify weakens the 60-player Olympic field, but it’s also pivotal in opening Olympic golf’s door to countries like Mexico, Israel and China.

“Not many people know about my sport in our country,” Beck said. “I hear people say, `What? Golf is an Olympic sport?’ If we are represented in the Olympics, so many more people will come to know the sport.”

Lopez carries the same vision for women’s golf in Mexico.