It's not an overstatement to call this event the most stressful of the year.
Play well for five days and the 2005 LPGA Tour season is yours for the taking. One wayward drive or a couple of putts left short, and a player can leave Daytona Beach wondering about next year. For 90 grueling holes it is all or nothing.
Two LPGA Sectional Qualifying Tournaments - one in Rancho Mirage, Calif., and the other in Venice, Fla. - have been held to help determine the field for the Final LPGA Qualifying Tournament.
The top-30 finishers and ties from each LPGA Sectional Qualifying Tournament advanced to the final stage and join 66 current LPGA Tour members who are trying to improve their playing status for 2005. The field is completed by the eligible players who finished sixth through 15th on the final 2004 Futures Tour money list. The top-five finishers on the Futures Tour money list automatically received their exempt card for 2005.
Eighteen-year-old amateur sensation Paula Creamer, who tied for fifth at the California sectional, will garner a lot of attention this week. Creamer, who was a member of the 2004 U.S. Curtis Cup Team, is one of the youngest players in the tournament, but her golfing resume is anything but immature.
Via sponsor's exemptions, she has been a fixture in LPGA events for the last two years, and this year just missed a 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole of the ShopRite LPGA Classic to force a sudden-death playoff. Creamer was attempting to become the youngest winner in the history of the Tour and the first amateur to win an LPGA event since JoAnne Carner in 1969.
Creamer also tied for 13th at the U.S. Women's Open conducted by the USGA to garner low amateur laurels with Michelle Wie, but it was another teenager who stole the first-round headlines of the biggest tournament of women's golf.
Brittany Lincicome was the surprise first-round leader at the U.S. Women's Open after an opening round 5-under-par 66. Lincicome would end up finishing 55th, but her debut on the sports grandest stage served notice that she could compete with the best in the world. The 19-year-old, who did not play in the California sectional, tied for fourth at the Florida sectional to advance to the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament.
The LPGA is one of the most diverse sports associations in the world, but Hong Mie Yang is looking to add even more diversity. After claiming medalist honors by eight strokes at the Florida sectional, Yang is in position to become the first player from the People's Republic of China to compete on the LPGA Tour. Earlier this year, Yang became the first woman from mainland China to win a full-field professional golf tournament, capturing the IOS Futures Golf Classic, which was her first Futures Tour start. Li Ying Ye also of China is playing this week.
Other notables in the event include 2002 Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year winner Beth Bauer; 2004 NCAA individual champion and U.S. Curtis Cup Team member Sarah Huarte; and 2004 U.S. Curtis Cup Team member Erica Blasberg. Sarah Jane Kenyon and Sae-Hee Son join Creamer as the only amateurs competing.
The field will be cut to the low 70 players and ties after 72 holes, and a sudden-death playoff will be held for the 30th exempt card in the event of a tie. The next 35 players and ties will receive non-exempt status for the 2005 season. The final round will be contested on the Legends Course.