Savannah Vilaubi could’ve been speaking for anyone.
“Whew, I'm ready for a beer,” Vilaubi said with a laugh after wrapping up her seventh round of this LPGA Q-Series.
The 28-year-old UC Riverside product, like the rest of the competitors in the 74-player field for the second – and final – week of the circuit’s qualifying tournament, has just 18 holes remaining in what will end up being a 108-hole marathon. So far, it’s been a battle of nerves and a test of patience, but no player on Saturday fared better than Vilaubi, who fired a 5-under 67, tied for the round of the day, to move three shots above the cut line at Highland Oaks in Dothan, Alabama.
“I finally have some relief emotions now that the round is done,” Vilaubi said, “but while playing you have stress, of course, but I just keep telling myself like this is not foreign, this is not anything that I haven't experienced before, so I think today it was just all about kind of transcending the emotions I was feeling so I could focus on the shot.”
Nearly six years into her professional-golf journey, Vilaubi has one of the larger social-media footprints among female tour pros, with over 75,000 Instagram followers, but she is still looking to earn her LPGA card for the first time. She’s played three full seasons on the Symetra Tour, including last season, which was her best on the developmental tour. She tied for second at the Mission Inn Resort and Club Championship in May, one of five top-15 showings this year, and finished No. 31 on the money list. She also captured the Colorado Women’s Open in June.
Those performances have continued to bolster her confidence as she's now on the cusp of a career-changing moment.
“Winning the Colorado State Open this year was a huge deal as far as getting me mentally familiar with what winning feels like, playing from a lead, maintaining the lead,” Vilaubi said. “I mean, you're always wanting to shoot well, whether it's to make a cut realistically or if it's to win a tournament, so I think the mind frame is very, very similar and I felt really prepared. … I'm getting more familiar with kind of being closer to the top.”
While Vilaubi is far from the top this week – she trails France’s Pauline Roussin-Bouchard, the current leader, by 26 shots – winning isn’t the sole goal of players teeing it up this week. The top 45 and ties after Sunday will earn LPGA status for next year, though the higher a player finishes, the better her priority for 2022.
Roussin-Bouchard, a former top-ranked amateur who turned pro out of South Carolina this summer, is five shots clear of second-place Na Rin An of South Korea. The French standout equaled Vilaubi's 67 on Saturday, though Roussin-Bouchard's round included an ace on the 13th hole.
"During the practice round, we were joking around with my caddie, coach, physio, that I didn't have a hole-in-one for the last 10 years, and I said, 'Well, this is the perfect week to have one,'" said Roussin-Bouchard, who signed the ball and gave it to her physio, Francois Teissedre-Dalou, with the message, "Por Francois."
Thai sensation Atthaya Thitikul is third at 23 under, five ahead of the next closest competitor, while amateurs Vivian Hou (-12), Yu-Sang Hou (-9), Brooke Matthews (-9) and Gina Kim (-9) are also in good position to earn their LPGA cards – and potentially leave their college teams midseason.
Further down the leaderboard, there are 34 players either on or within three shots, above or below, of the projected cut of 4 under. That group includes major winner Hinako Shibuno, who dropped significantly, to 7 under, with a seventh-round 79. Agathe Laisne (-6), Kristen Gillman (-5), Linn Grant (-4), Meghan MacLaren (-4) and amateur Beatrice Wallin (-4) are currently among those inside the number. Anita Uwadia (-3), Caroline Inglis (-3) and Mariah Stackhouse (-2) will enter Sunday just below the cut line.
“I think now, for the first time, like I really, truly feel like I'm ready to compete out there, so it makes you want it even more,” said MacLaren, who has won five times, including once on Symetra (this year) and once on the Ladies European Tour, since turning pro out of Florida International in 2016. “But like I said, you just have to keep backing yourself and what's supposed to happen will happen.”