Exempt LPGA Tour cards for the top-five money earners after 18 tournaments are the ultimate goal all year for members of the Futures Tour. To earn one of the cards is to graduate with honors and advance from the minors to the major league.
Falling short of the top five has a consolation prize, however. Futures Tour members who finish in the next 10 spots (behind the exempt card winners), and excluding any non-exempt LPGA Tour members, advance directly into the LPGA's Final Qualifying Tournament. That means they avoid sectional qualifiers in Florida and California and move into the final qualifier in Daytona Beach, Fla. Any player who whiffs on the top 15 goes to Q-School anyway -- they just take the long, harder route that adds a little insult to an already long season.
But with only two tournaments remaining on the schedule, there's a lot of stress at crunch time. It's put-up-or-shut-up time. It's time when some players' minds race forward to 2005 to where they want to be or to where they hope they won't be.
'A lot of players are feeling a sense of urgency right now,' said Lisa Strom Fernandes, a fourth-year Futures Tour member who is ranked 47th. 'Q-School is the ultimate Black Hole. It's a major ordeal and you want to avoid going there.'
Echoing Tiger Woods' frequent declaration, players on the Futures Tour often share the belief that their games 'are close' to being where they want to be. They believe they are maybe 'two swings away' from a win or a low score. And that only adds to the anxiety of facing the final stretch of tournaments and trying to perform in a timely fashion.
That said, count on an all-out skirmish for those 2005 LPGA Tour cards this year. In 2003, Candy Hannemann won two of the last three tournaments to clinch the No. 3 position on the Futures Tour Money List. Because of that history, even players in the top-five feel liked marked women.
'I sort of feel like No. 1 and No. 2 are probably OK, but from the No. 3 to the No. 5 spot, I think it's kind of like a wild card,' said Kang, who won the fourth-to-last tournament in West Virginia and jumped from No. 3 to No. 1 with three weeks to play. 'It's stressful right now. People are practicing more and the range and putting greens are packed, even on pro-am days. I think it's going to be really close at the end.'
Weary from the season and often battling injuries, there are numerous pros playing hurt. But with so few events remaining, players are reluctant to take even a day off. The drudgery of the season often has shown up in their scores.
'Right now, it's more physical than mental,' said Nicole Perrot of Chile, who currently is ranked No. 3, after having won in Albany, N.Y. last week. 'But the worst thing I can do is worry about it. You have to worry about the things you can control.'
And heading into that final Sunday on Aug. 29, in York, Pa., about all anybody can control is their sweaty palms and daydreams of the LPGA Tour.
Editors Note: Lisa D. Mickey is the director of communications for the Futures Golf Tour and a longtime member of the national golf media. For more information, about the Futures Tour, contact email@example.com or visit futurestour.com.