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Former women's college stars making pro debuts at Vic Open

Lauren Stephenson and Kristen Gillman at the 2018 Curtis Cup
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Lauren Stephenson (L) and Kristen Gillman at the 2018 Curtis Cup.  - 

Most of that celebrated first wave of former collegians passing through the inaugural LPGA Q-Series last fall are making their rookie debuts at the ISPS Handa Vic Open in Australia.

Former Alabama star Lauren Stephenson opened with a 4-under-par 69 Thursday, leaving her tied for 10th, just four shots off the lead.

Her teammate with the Crimson Tide, Kristen Gillman, opened with a 1-under 72.

Stephenson and Gillman were among five collegians who were exempted into the final stage of Q-Series, a new special category granted from off the top of the Golfweek/Sagarin college rankings. The new access caused backlash among college coaches, even with the LPGA’s special provision allowing amateurs to defer their membership until this summer.

Full-field scores from the ISPS Handa Vic Open

Stephenson and Gillman left Alabama before the spring collegiate season to join the LPGA, rocking the roster of the then No. 1 Crimson Tide.

“I just don’t think it’s helping college golf,” Alabama coach Mic Potter told last fall. “It’s not good for the game.”

Only two of the seven collegians who earned LPGA tour cards last fall chose to defer their membership to complete their spring seasons (Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho and Arkansas’ Maria Fassi).

Stephenson and Gillman saw the Q-Series opportunity differently than their coach.

“Q-Series may not be good for the college game, but it’s great for golf,” Stephenson said moments after earning her tour card. “We don’t want to leave the team in a bad spot, but this is our dream. We will be supporting the team, and I know they’re supporting us.”

Jaclyn Lee, the former Ohio State star, and Robyn Choi, the former University of Colorado standout, are also making their rookie debuts in Australia.

Lee opened with a 73 and Choi with a 75.