McALLEN, Texas, April 29, 2007 – Walking down her 54th fairway today, Emily Bastel stared ahead at the 18th green. A thousand thoughts poured through her head at that moment. In a span of three years, she had earned her LPGA Tour card, played on the LPGA Tour for two years, lost her LPGA Tour card, and was back on the Duramed FUTURES Tour trying to regain her status. And now, on a hot and sunny day five miles from the Mexican border, she was poised to win her first tournament as a professional.
“Just finish this,” said fellow Tour member Dana Ford to Bastel somewhere around the 150-yard marker as the players in the final pairing walked toward the hole.
And Bastel did, knocking her approach to 30 feet and eventually tapping in for par on that final hole to win the $75,000 Jalapeno Duramed FUTURES Golf Classic by two shots. Bastel’s even-par 72 was good enough to win at 210 (-6).
“It’s nice for a lot of hard work to pay off,” said Bastel, 26, of Upper Sandusky, Ohio, who collected $10,500 for the win and moved from ninth to second on the Tour’s season money list. “I really did feel like I was in control today.”
The petite player known for consistency was the kind of winner who was inevitable at the windy Palm View Golf Course in South Texas. Constant wind and frequent gusts kept players guessing on the 6,379-yard course, but Bastel stayed on track with a total of three bogeys for the week and either led or was just off the lead for the first two days. She took a one-shot lead into today’s final round and never trailed.
“I didn’t make a ton of birdies this week, but I didn’t make a lot of mistakes, either,” said Bastel, a four-time Big Ten All-Conference team selection at Michigan State University from 1999-2002.
The former U.S. Curtis Cup team member rolled in only one birdie on the front, from 16 feet on the seventh hole, but gave it back with a bogey on the 12th when she had to punch out of the trees twice. Bastel birdied the 13th hole from one foot, then gave that one back on the par-three 14th when she gassed her tee shot over the green and didn’t get up and down for par.
She could feel her nerves starting to kick in, just as they did when she was tied for the lead after two rounds at the Tour’s second tournament in Tampa back in March. That one slipped away, but this time, Bastel knew what she had to do.
“I was nervous, but I did a good job of staying in the present,” she said. “I know that sounds so cliché, but that’s really why I won.”
That, and her steady hands from tee to green.
“She had only one errant shot today -- on No. 17 -- and still got it up and down out of the bunker,” said Ford, who tied for 15th at even-par 216. “Emily has the distance, the short game and is a great putter. There’s no reason why she can’t win out here or anywhere else.”
Tour rookie Angie Hill of Canton, Ohio, was Bastel’s closest pursuer today. She moved within one stroke of Bastel after starting the final round three shots behind the leader. Hill rolled in birdies on holes 1, 4 and 9 and seemed to be gaining momentum in the third annual event.
“I knew I had to start strong because I was three back,” said Hill, 23, who was a co-medalist last fall at the LPGA’s Florida Sectional Qualifier. “With the wind blowing, I thought if I could keep it at six-under par [total], I might have a chance.”
Hill bogeyed the 10th after an errant tee shot, and then suffered back-to-back three-putt bogeys on holes 13 and 14. Still ruffled by the consecutive putting snafus, Hill added her fourth bogey on the 15th.
“I think those three-putts started messing with me,” said Hill, who was the 2006 Southern Conference Player of the Year while at the College of Charleston (S.C.). “Maybe I just started pressing mentally.”
Hill righted herself just in time with a six-foot birdie on the 17th, then chipped to one foot on the 18th for a birdie on the last hole to card a one-under-par 71 and secure second place alone at 212 (-4).
Four players – Cortney Reno (66) of Grosse Ile, Mich., Eunjung Yi (71) of Murrieta, Calif., Allison Fouch (72) of Grand Rapids, Mich., and Sofie Andersson (73) of Angelhom, Sweden – tied for third at 213 (-3).
But today was Bastel’s day. The stone-cold reality of losing her LPGA status at last year’s LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament seemed a little less painful, while the prospect of finishing in the top five on this year’s Duramed FUTURES Tour Money List to earn a 2008 LPGA Tour card inched a little closer.
“Her win today is a nice stepping stone and an indication that she’s back after the rough season she had last year,” said Fouch, Bastel’s former Michigan State teammate. “I didn’t think she was going to back up today.”
“I’m sure Emily was looking for confidence and this was it,” added another Tour member and former Michigan State teammate, Sarah Martin of Grosse Ile, Mich., who finished tied for seventh at 214 (-2). “Getting a win just solidifies what you’re doing out here.”
Flanked by her former Spartan teammates, Bastel signed autographs all the way to the gate of the course, where she climbed into Martin’s car and sped away to make a flight at 6:30 p.m.
She didn’t have a lot of time to savor her first victory, much less cringe at the singe on her taste buds as she upheld the tradition of biting into one of the fresh jalapeno peppers stuffed into her Mikasa crystal trophy.
But most likely, Bastel knows that the last two champions of this event won the first of their two season victories in this South Texas city and moved on to the LPGA Tour. If it was the steppingstone needed for Virada Nirapathpongporn (2005) and Kristy McPherson (2006) to get to the LPGA Tour, then she’ll take it.
Pepper burns and all.
For scores and more information, visit www.duramedfuturestour.com.
Weather: Partly cloudy with a high temperature of 92 degrees and wind around 22 mph, gusting to 26 mph.
Contact: Lisa D. Mickey, Duramed FUTURES Tour at (863) 709-9100 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.
photo Getty Images