Players earn LPGA cards, shot at Olympic glory at Q-School

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Nobody passed the Olympic torch to Mexico’s Gaby Lopez when she walked off the 18th green Sunday after earning her tour card at the final stage of LPGA Q-School.

Maybe somebody should have.

Lopez could have passed it on to Israel’s Laetitia Beck and the Philippines’ Cyna Rodriguez.

They may have been the biggest winners of all earning full LPGA membership, because their tour cards put them on a fast track to qualifying for the Olympics next summer.

“I came on a mission,” said Lopez, who closed with a 1-over-par 73 to tie for 10th. “I came to Q-School to open myself to the chance to get to Rio. That’s my ultimate goal.”

A pathway to Brazil opens wide now for Lopez, Beck and Rodriguez, because the LPGA is a greased track to the Olympic Games for players from evolving golf nations like Mexico, Israel and the Philippines. That’s because Rolex Women’s World Ranking points are used as the qualifying standard for Olympic women’s golf, and the LPGA offers so many more world-ranking points than any other tour in the women’s game.

The LPGA offers about four times as many world-ranking points as the average Ladies European Tour event and about three times as many as the average Japan or Korean LPGA event. That’s a substantially greater differential than the PGA Tour offers over other men’s tours.

With golf powerhouses like South Korea and the United States limited to a maximum of four players per country and most nations limited to two players, the Olympics will reach deep into the world talent pool to fill its field in golf.

The top 60 on the International Golf Federation’s Olympic women’s rankings as of July 11 qualify for the Olympic Games next August. The IGF rankings are based on the Rolex rankings but adjusted for eligibility. While there are 23 South Koreans inside the top 60 in the Rolex rankings, only the top four eligible for the Olympics are included in the IGF Olympic women’s rankings.

Lopez is No. 437 in the Rolex rankings as an amateur, but she’s already No. 61 on the IGF Olympic women’s rankings. With full access to the LPGA now, Lopez can accelerate hard up those rankings.

“This is why Gaby came here this week,” said Gabriela Lopez, Gaby’s mother, who wrapped her daughter in a long, tearful hug aside the 18th green late Sunday. “It wasn’t about the money she could make playing the LPGA. It was about the chance to represent her country in the Olympics.”

Lopez, a senior at the University of Arkansas, finished runner up at the NCAA Women’s Championship last spring. She came to LPGA Q-School with an eye on turning pro a year earlier than expected if she earned her tour card. She announced her intention to turn pro after Sunday’s round.

“Every sport in Mexico, it’s aimed at the Olympics,” Lopez said. “This is a huge chance to open golf for Mexico.”

Same thing in Israel, where earlier this year Beck became the first player from that country to compete on the LPGA’s tour.

“It would mean so much to me to represent Israel and the Jewish people in the Olympics,” Beck said Sunday after closing with a 71 to tie for eighth. “The first time I saw my name with the flag of Israel beside it on the leaderboard this year, I almost cried.”

Beck is a perfect example of how the LPGA can work as a fast pass to the Olympics. She didn’t have a single point starting her LPGA rookie season earlier this year, but if the Olympic women’s field was decided today, Beck would qualify. Though Beck finished 111th on the LPGA money list this past year, with one top-20 finish, she still soared inside the Olympic qualifying ranking.

Beck is No. 347 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings but No. 54 in the IGF’s Olympic women’s ranking. By earning back full LPGA status Sunday, she will be better able to protect and improve her ranking next year.

Rodriguez is No. 927 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings but can make giant moves upward now that she has full access to LPGA events.

“This is life changing,” Rodriguez said. “That’s how I would describe it.”

With the Olympics looming so large next summer, Sunday’s conclusion was even more life changing than normal for Q-School.