Its Crunch Time for Hopefuls


Ladies Professional Golf AssociationDAYTONA BEACH, Fla. ' A field of 132 will tee it up this week at the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament at the Legends Course at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla. All will be vying for the coveted 28 exempt spots available for the 2004 tour season.
It is a week when dreams are accomplished or nightmares become a reality. Its not uncommon for this tournament to be called the most stressful on the LPGA Tour. Play well for four days and the 2004 LPGA Tour season is yours for the taking. One wayward drive or a couple of putts left short, and a player can leave packing her bags and wondering about next year. For 72 holes it is all or nothing.
Two LPGA Sectional Qualifying Tournaments'one in Venice, Fla., and the other in Rancho Mirage, Calif. ' have been held to help determine the field for the Final LPGA Qualifying Tournament. The top 30 finishers from each LPGA Sectional Qualifying Tournament advanced to the final stage and join 64 current LPGA Tour members who are trying to improve their playing status for 2004.
The field is completed by the five players who finished sixth through 10th on the final 2003 Futures Tour money list. The top five finishers on the Futures Tour money list automatically received their exempt card for 2004.
Seventeen-year-old sensation Aree Song, who joined Kelly Lagedrost and Koreas Seol-An Jeon as medalists at the Florida sectional, will garner a lot of attention this week. Song is one of the most highly touted players in the tournament and has been a sponsor exemption fixture in LPGA events for many years, but it is her age that makes her appearance so intriguing.
The minimum age to compete on the LPGA Tour is 18, but Song, who will not celebrate her 18th birthday until after the 2004 season has started, received special permission from LPGA Commissioner Ty M. Votaw to compete and try to earn her card for next year.
Song turned professional last August, but has played in 14 LPGA events as an amateur since 2000, making the cut in 11, including all six major championships in which she has played.
Michelle Simpson had to travel to the West Coast to pick up medalist honors at the California sectional, but now the New Smyrna Beach, Fla., resident will compete a few miles from her home for a tour card. She led after every round in California and cruised to a four-shot victory.
Other notables in the event include 2001 U.S. Womens Amateur Champion and 2002 U.S. Curtis Cup Team member Meredith Duncan; 2002 U.S. Womens Amateur Champion Becky Lucidi; and 2002 U.S. Curtis Cup Team members Emily Bastel and Laura Myerscough.
Nuria Clau, Amy Hung and Danielle Masters are the only amateurs competing.
The field will be cut to the low 70 players and ties after 54 holes, and a sudden-death playoff will be held for the 28th exempt card in the event of a tie. The next 35 players and ties will receive non-exempt status for the 2004 season.