Catherine Cartwright of Bonita Springs, Fla., made her way through the grueling LPGA Tour Qualifying Tournament ' or Q-School as it has come to be known ' finishing in a tie for 31st. She is the youngest member - at 18 years old ' of the 27 rookies. Yet Cartwright ' who stands six feet tall - makes up in stature what she lacks in years. Natalie Gulbis, the second-youngest member of the 2002 Tour by two months, turns 18 in March. She was the youngest player in history to Monday qualify for an LPGA event (1997 Longs Drugs Challenge at the age of 14) and is the only American rookie to gain exempt status for 2002 season.
Diane Irvin of Los Angeles is on the other end of the age spectrum at 37 years old. She is the oldest rookie in the 2002 class. A graduate of UCLA, she practiced law from 1991-1995. But this winter, after earning non-exempt status, Irvin will be practicing her golf game.
Not all of the rookies were subject to the rigors of Q-School. Since 1999 the SBC Futures Tour has offered a free ticket past Q-School and directly onto the Tour to the top three season money winners. This year Beth Bauer, Angela Buzminski and Jung Yeon Lee of Seoul, Korea, were the lucky three.
Bauer has had an interesting, albeit bumpy, road to the LPGA Tour. The Duke University standout left school after two years, turned professional in August of 2001 and headed straight for Q-School. It was there that she learned just how hard playing professional golf would be. Bauer did not make her card and played on the Futures Tour in 2001 where she recorded four wins, finished first on the money list and set a single-season earnings record with $81,529 in earnings. I think not getting my card was a blessing in disguise, Bauer said. I dont know if I would have been as successful (playing) on the LPGA and I have gained tremendous confidence in my game, which is only going to make me a better player.
Buzminski automatically earned a Tour card by finishing second on the SBC Futures Tour. The 30-year-old will enjoy the status of being the only lefty on Tour in 2002.
Jung Yeon Lee rounded out the top three after barely edging out countrywoman Ju Yun Kim by a mere $211 in prize money. It was enough to avoid Q-School and go directly to the big league.
In all, there are three rookies from Seoul, Korea. Jung Yeon Lee, Ara Koh ' the 2000 Korean LPGA Tour Rookie of the Year - and Sun Hee Lee.
Korea is not the only Asian country to produce talented young players. Mayumi Nakajima of Nagano, Japan, finished eighth on the Futures Tour money list in 2001 and tied for 21st at Q-School - missing exempt status by a mere two shots. Shiho Katano of Tokyo, Japan, finished 13th in her third trip to Q-School. Candie Kung of Taiwan also joins the rookie class.
The Ladies European Tour (LET) is losing four-year player Anna Sanchez of Malaga, Spain. Sanchez showed her tenacity after surviving a five-way sudden-death playoff in stage two to advance to the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament where she finished 31st to earn non-exempt status. Also switching sides of the Atlantic is Giulia Sergas of Triest, Italy ' the 2000 LET Bill Johnson Rookie of the Year ' as well as Jeanne-Marie Busuttil and Marine Monnet of Paris, France, Caroline Hall of Bristol, England, Marlene Hedblom of Gayle, Sweden, and JoAnne Mills of Sydney, Australia.
The third time was a charm for Elizabeth Bowman of Bonita, Cal. Three years ago Bowman missed her card by $154 ' this year she was medallist at the second stage. Bowman, a professional since 1993, ran away with the second sectional at Q-School in Rancho Mirage, Cal., by 10 shots. This was her fifth appearance at final Q-school and she finished with a final round of 68 to tie for 25th to earn non-exempt status.
Most people who subject themselves to the trials of Q-School know what they want. Their goals are clear. This was not the case of Hilary Homeyer of Edina, Minn. ' a four-time All-American at Stanford University. She wasnt sure if the wanted to pursue a pro golf career. But after tying for 31st in her first attempt at gaining a Tour card and earning non-exempt status - her choice was clear.
Stephanie Keever turned pro June 17th just days after playing in the U.S. Womens Open as an amateur graduate of Stanford and joins the 2002 rookie class with teammate Homeyer.
Others to earn non-exempt status were Nicole Dalkas, Miriam Nagl - who attended Arizona State for one year before joining the Futures Tour - Jill Gomric, a University of Arizona alumna and Clarissa Childs, who will be leaving her post as assistant golf coach at the University of South Carolina to join the 2002 LPGA Tour. Childs already has her first sponsor, South Carolina rock band Hootie and the Blowfish.
Twenty-seven womens dreams have come true. They will play on the LPGA Tour. In the coming year we shall see just what these women are made of. And the real question of whether there is another Laura Diaz or Karrie Webb in their midst will be revealed.