It's not an overstatement to call the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament the most stressful event of the year. Play well for five days and the 2006 LPGA Tour season is yours for the taking. One wayward drive or a couple of putts left short, and a player can leave sunny Daytona Beach feeling gray.
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 70 current LPGA Tour members'a record number'who are trying to improve or retain their playing status for 2006. The field is completed by the eligible players who finished sixth through 15th on the final 2005 Futures Tour money list. The top-five finishers on the Futures Tour money list automatically received their exempt card for 2006.
Of the 142 players competing, none will garner more attention than Morgan Pressel, Brittany Lang and Ai Miyazato. Pressel, a feisty 17-year-old who recently turned professional, has made golfing headlines since she qualified for the U.S. Women's Open conducted by the USGA when she was 12. This year, she won the U.S. Women's Amateur, tied for second at the U.S. Women's Open and never finished worse than a tie for 25th in her other six LPGA appearances.
However, there is a caveat to the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament that exists for Pressel. She petitioned the LPGA for early membership at the age of 17, but even if she earns a Tour card, she will not be able to compete as an LPGA member until her 18th birthday, which is in May. Pressel can play in events before May as a sponsor's exemption, and has already accepted an invitation to play in the early-season Safeway International Presented by Coca-Cola, but any money earned will not be official until her membership begins in May. Pressel finished sixth at the California-based LPGA Sectional Qualifying Tournament after shooting final-round 63 to advance to the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament.
Lang, who like Pressel tied for second at the U.S. Women's Open, will compete in the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament after taking medalist honors at the California-based LPGA Sectional Qualifying Tournament. Lang was an amateur at the U.S. Women's Open, but has since turned professional and left her two years at Duke University behind her to embark on a journey to the LPGA. Lang played in six LPGA events this year, made the cut four times, and recorded three top-15 finishes.
Miyazato, a pint-sized superstar from Japan, finished runner-up to Lang at the LPGA Sectional Qualifying Tournament and is ready to make a splash on the LPGA Tour. She played in the HSBC Women's World Match Play Championship and knocked off Laura Diaz in the first round before bouncing LPGA Tour and World Golf Halls of Fame member Juli Inkster in the second. She finished tied for ninth and also tied for 11th at the Weetabix Women's British Open.
Other notables competing this week include 2005 National Golf Coaches Association Eleanor Dudley Division I Player of the Year award winner Louise Stahle; 2005 Women's World Cup of Golf participant and European standout Minea Blomqvist; 2004 U.S. Girls' Junior champion Julieta Granada; and 2002 Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year winner Beth Bauer.
The LPGA is one of the most diverse sports associations in the world, and that could not be any more evident than by looking at the makeup of the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament. Twenty-two countries will be represented with players competing from Australia, Canada, China, Colombia, Ecuador, England, Finland, France, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Scotland, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, United States and Wales.
The field will be cut to the low 70 players and ties after 72 holes, with the remaining players contesting the final round on the Legends Course. After 90 holes, a sudden-death playoff will be held to determine who gets the final exempt card in the event of a tie. The next 35 players and ties will receive conditional status for the 2006 season.