Cho Wins on Futures Tour

By Futures Tour MediaJuly 10, 2004, 4:00 pm
Futures TourSTRATTON MOUNTAIN, Vt. -- The ever-changing skies of Vermont were as unpredictable as Saturday's final-round leader board at the $70,000 Stratton Mountain Futures Classic. And the ebb and flow of leading scores kept the galleries guessing right down to the final eagle putt of teenager Aram Cho.
Cho, 18, started the day five shots behind leader Lisa Chang of Los Angeles, but the native of Seoul, Korea carded birdies on four of her first nine holes to take a one-shot lead, then added another birdie on the 11th hole for an outright, two-stroke edge at Stratton Mountain Country Club.
But how the day evolved gave Green Mountain golf lovers a flashback to yesteryear. When the Futures Tour first arrived in Vermont in 1996 to play at Green Mountain National, Smriti Mehra came to the 18th hole tied with native Vermonter Holly Reynolds. Mehra eagled the final hole and won by two shots.
Eight years later, a baby-faced rookie nicknamed 'Pooh' who had turned professional less than a year earlier, repeated the crescendo final act in the same state. After a bogey on the 16th and a final-round charge by Young Jo of Suwon, Korea and Lindsey Wright of Albury, Australia, Cho found herself in a three-way tie for the lead at 7 under par. Playing behind Wright and Jo, it was Cho's tournament to lose. But instead of sputtering on the 18th, the teen showed the mettle that had helped her win her first professional title four weeks ago in Decatur, Ill.
'I hit my 3-wood 220 yards to the 18th green and thought I hit it pretty close,' said Cho, through fellow player Sunny Oh, who helped interpret for the winner. 'But when I walked to the green, it was about 40 feet away from the hole. I knew I needed two putts to win, but I said to my dad [also her caddie], 'let's just make this one.''
And the teen slammed home the monster putt to dash the playoff hopes of Wright and Jo, who watched Cho's finish from the back of the clubhouse.
'It was so close,' said Jo, 20, who fired a final-round 67. 'I was right there. I'm playing solid and I know I can win soon, but I feel happy for Aram. We're good friends.'
Jo had a 40-foot eagle attempt of her own on the 18th green, but had to settle for a tap-in birdie and a share of second with Wright at 7-under 209. And although Wright didn't win, her final-round 64 was the story of the day on the rolling 6,212-yard, par-72 course.
The Aussie began Saturday's round at one-over par and blistered the course with eight birdies that put her on the scoreboard from out of nowhere. With a final-round scoring average of 69.375, Wright kept the groups behind her watching scoreboards and hoping the former Pepperdine University All-American would run out of holes before she went any lower. She did, indeed, birdie the last hole, hitting 16 greens and recording 27 putts for the round. And her season-low Futures Tour score of 64 was the consolation for runner-up status.
'I'm definitely not disappointed,' said Wright, 24, who retained her top ranking as the Tour's money leader. 'It was just magical today. I played like every hole was a birdie opportunity and I was really focused. My friends were laughing and calling me 'Last-Day Lindsey.''
Last-Day Lindsey nearly got the last laugh, but Cho played the no-fear style of golf that has moved her into the No. 2 spot on the Tour's money list and into the top position for the Tour's Rookie of the Year honors. For her win, the teen pocketed $9,800.
'I'm so happy about winning,' said Cho, who posted rounds of 71-71-65 for her 9-under-par performance of 207 in the 54-hole event. 'I feel like I'm flying. I didn't think about winning today because I was five strokes behind the leader, but after the birdie putt on No. 9, I knew I would take the lead.'
Danielle Downey of Spencerport, N.Y., who won in Lima, Ohio last month, fired a final-round, 4-under-par 68 to move into fourth place at 210. Jimin Kang of Seoul, Korea, also carded a 68, to tie for fifth at 212 with three others. And tour veteran Lori Atsedes of Ithaca, N.Y., moved into a four-way tie for ninth at 213 with her final-round 68.
But it was Cho's day. The teen can't explain her rapid success after only eight years of playing the game she learned from her father, Sung Ken Cho -- who caddies for the teen on tour.
'I'm surprised about the whole thing,' added Cho, whose final-round 65 was her career-low round. 'I think everybody worked hard today. This is the best I've ever played.'
How did the Tour's return to Vermont after a one-year hiatus register with typically stoic New Englanders? By the looks of fans who still fondly remember the McCall's LPGA Classic in Stratton Mountain from 1990-1995, it's safe to say Cho's grand finale on the 18th hole will go down as one of those memorable moments in Vermont golf.
How could it not? With Last-Day Lindsey, a baby-face future star named Pooh and a young player named Young Jo rising to the top of the 144-player field, they appear destined to meet again on the next level in the very near future. Today's final round in Stratton certainly was a preview of rounds to come.
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