LPGA Q-School grads will have big shoes to fill

Minjee Lee advanced from last year's LPGA Q-School and went on to win the Kingsmill. (Getty)

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Who is going to emerge from the final stage of LPGA Q-School in Daytona Beach, Fla., this week most equipped to make a mark on tour next year?

This year’s class of Q-School grads will have a tough road topping what last year’s class did.

A year ago, LPGA Q-School gave us Minjee Lee and Alison Lee as its medalists. Minjee, formerly the No. 1 women’s amateur in the world, went on to win the Kingsmill Classic. Alison went on to make the American Solheim Cup team. Last year’s Q-School grads also included Sei Young Kim, Charley Hull, Ha Na Jang and Ariya Jutanugarn. Kim was the LPGA’s Rolex Rookie of the Year and won three times. Hull made the European Solheim Cup team for a second time.

Kim and Jang led a new wave of South Koreans on to the tour in 2015. They joined Hyo Joo Kim and Q Baek as dynamic South Korean rookies, with Hyo Joo and Baek gaining their membership through non-member victories. All four players were already stars on the Korean LPGA Tour when they joined the American-based LPGA.

This year’s Q-School class doesn’t have the same sizzle.

There are four South Koreans at Q-School this year, with Jeong Eun Lee the most proven player in that group. Lee, a four-time KLPGA winner, made it through Q-School last year with conditional status.

When they teed it up at Q-School a year ago, Jang was already No. 25 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, Hull was No. 37 and Sei Young Kim was No. 40.

The highest ranked player in this year’s field is Denmark’s Nichole Broch Larsen at No. 75.

A field of 157 players is scheduled to compete at LPGA International’s Jones and Hills courses. At Sunday’s finish of the 90-hole event, the top 20 (no ties) will earn full status via category 12 on the LPGA priority list. Players finishing 21st through 45th and ties will earn conditional status via category 17. There will be a cut to the low 70 and ties after 72 holes with everyone finishing four rounds assured Symetra Tour status. There’s also a $50,000 purse in play with the medalist taking home $5,000.

Some players to watch this week:

Young and hungry – Taiwan’s Ssu Chia Cheng, Mexico’s Gaby Lopez and American Megan Khang are looking to make their marks. Cheng won a Ladies European Tour event as a 17-year-old amateur last year and is 14th on the LET Order of Merit this year. Lopez, a junior at the University of Arkansas, was runner up at the NCAA Championship this year. She’s playing as an amateur this week with the option of turning pro if she earns LPGA or Symetra Tour status. Khang, who turned 18 in October, turned pro last week. She was No. 8 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking before turning pro and was low amateur at the U.S. Women’s Open this summer.

LET hopefuls – Broch Larsen won the LET’s Helsingborg Open in September and is second on the LET’s Order of Merit this season. Wales’ Amy Boulden was the LET’s Rookie of the Year last season and is 10th on the LET Order of Merit this season. England’s Holly Clyburn is an LET winner ranked No. 90 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. Australia’s Rebecca Artis is No. 7 on the LET Order of Merit.

Ireland’s Stephanie Meadow is back at Q-School after earning conditional status last year. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award two weeks ago for the manner in which she managed the emotional challenges of her rookie season. The day before she was scheduled to depart for the season-opening Coates Golf Championship in January, she learned her devoted father, Robert, was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. She left the game for three months at year’s start to help her mother manage her father’s care before his death in May.

Back for more – Lorie Kane, 50, a four-time LPGA winner, is looking to return full time to the tour.

Cheyenne Woods, Kristy McPherson, Belen Mozo, Dori Carter, Heather Bowie Young, Becky Morgan, Cindy LaCrosse and Mallory Blackwelder are among LPGA veterans looking to regain or improve status for the 2016 season.