Healthy Hurst on verge of LPGA return

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Vicky Hurst is on the doorstep to a return to the LPGA.

With her ailing left wrist feeling stronger than it has in nearly three years, Hurst will tee it up Thursday at the season-ending Symetra Tour Championship in Daytona Beach, Fla., looking to secure LPGA membership for 2016.

Thanks to a summer resurgence, with two victories in her last six starts, Hurst has moved to sixth on the Symetra Tour money list. The top 10 on the developmental tour’s money list at week’s end will earn promotions to the LPGA next year.

“I missed the LPGA a lot, but I knew I had to come back out here,” Hurst said. “I had to stay focused on what I needed to do here to get back out there.”

Hurst, 25, won five times on the Symetra Tour as a 17-year-old after turning pro and topped the tour’s money list. A former junior phenom from Melbourne, Fla., she was a rising young LPGA talent when she made the U.S. Solheim Cup team in 2011. Her career, however, took a downward turn after she began experiencing pain in her wrist three seasons ago. She tried to play through it, but by last year the pain was intense and her game and confidence were slumping.

“The pain got pretty unbearable,” Hurst said. “Trying to play through it, my swing changed a lot, which wasn’t good. When you’re injured, your body quickly compensates. I started developing some bad habits.”

In the middle of last season, Hurst was diagnosed with a pair of cysts and a slight cartilage tear. She stepped away from the LPGA, putting away her clubs for three months to rest and rehabilitate the injury with physical therapy. She was granted an LPGA medical extension for 2015, which left her needing to make $129,000 in five starts this year to keep her card. Her game still wasn’t right enough to meet that challenge, and she missed the cut in all five of her starts this year. She returned to the Symetra Tour.

“It’s been a process getting my swing back in order, to where it needs to be,” Hurst said.

After that sluggish start this season, Hurst is back on an upward climb. She won the W.B. Mason Championship in Massachusetts in August and the Garden City Classic in Kansas last month.

“My wrist is a lot stronger, a lot better now,” Hurst said. “I’m still recovering. It will be awhile before it gets back to 100 percent, but right now it feels pretty good.”

A field of 108 players is scheduled to tee it up at the Symetra Tour Championship on the Jones Course at LPGA International. A $150,000 purse is in play with $22,500 going to the winner. The top 23 on this week’s money list still have mathematical chances to crack the top 10 and earn LPGA cards for next year.

Italy’s Giulia Molinaro leads the money list with $68,632 in earnings. Hurst is sixth with $57,814 in winnings. Rachel Rohanna is holding down the 10th spot at $52,314.

Hurst could have tried to keep playing the LPGA through Monday qualifiers and sponsor exemptions this year, but she believed the Symetra Tour was a better place to rebuild her game.

“I think it was a good decision,” Hurst said. “If you’re not playing well, the LPGA is just not an easy road. The competition here on the Symetra Tour is still really good. To be able to get out here and have the pressure of being in the final group, or coming down the stretch in the lead, or near the lead, I think it’s good for developing confidence.”

Hurst is hoping renewed confidence will help her in a return to the LPGA in 2016.