At the Duramed FUTURES Tour's second-to-last tournament of the 2010 season, this week's $100,000 Greater Richmond Golf Classic was viewed by many players as one of the last two critical stepping stones to the 2011 LPGA Tour.
Players in contention for the 10 LPGA cards felt the pressure of the money race for those cards. And the clamoring to win this event opened today's final round with seven pros tied for the lead.
But by day's end, only two players had clawed their way to the top. And after 18 holes of regulation and two extra holes of sudden death, Jennifer Song finally held off Jenny Shin for the win.
Both Song and Shin each carded rounds of 6-under 66 today to tie at 12-under 204 after 54 holes, but Song didn't have the win in her pocket until after two more trips around the 18th hole at Richmond Country Club. When her final 20-foot uphill putt slammed home for birdie and the win, Song finally allowed herself a smile and celebration.
"I feel so relieved," said Song, 20, of Ann Arbor, Mich. "I usually don't make fist pumps, but I've wanted this win for quite a while. There was definitely a lot of pressure and I definitely was shaking a lot out there."
But who would have known it?
Song cruised around the tree-lined course with a bogey-free round that included four birdies on the front and two on the back. She hit 16 greens and 12 fairways in regulation and used 29 putts. She looked every bit like the same confident player who had dominated women's amateur golf in 2009, winning the U.S. Women's Amateur Championship and the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links, and helping her 2010 U.S. Curtis Cup team win earlier this summer.
When she closed out her collegiate career at the University of Southern California this spring and won her professional debut in June on the Duramed FUTURES Tour in Decatur, Ill., Song looked like the "spoiler" bursting out on tour to charge up the money list in half a season.
But then she ran into other equally determined rookies like Shin, who also owns a tournament win this season. And when she began today's final round, Song knew Shin would be waiting, and Shin knew Song was the player she had to beat.
"I woke up at 6 this morning and told my mom that I was really nervous," said Shin, 18, of Torrance, Calif. "I had a feeling that Jennifer would shoot at least three or four under."
That premonition was playing out right before her eyes in today's round. When Shin made the nine-hole turn, she ran over and looked at the leaderboard and saw that Song was at 10 under. Shin was at 9 under and knew she needed to get going.
"I was chasing her," said Shin, who was the 2006 U.S. Girls' Junior champion and the winner of The International at Concord in New Hampshire four weeks ago. "I had the fist pump in my mind. I had my speech in my head. I wanted to do it right."
And while Stephanie Na of Adelaide, Australia closed with a 3-under 69 to move into third place at 9-under 207, and Jenny Gleason of Clearwater, Fla., carded a 4-under 68 for fourth place at 8-under 208, today's final round turned into a toe-to-toe battle between two players who already own three USGA titles between them and a guaranteed future of rematches.
Shin was also bogey-free today, recording three birdies on the front nine and three birdies on the back. With her mother, Hyunok Shin, carrying her golf bag, Shin's shots were pure and her putter was golden, especially as she became more nervous on the back nine and began missing greens. Shin saved par from the woods on the 13th, got up and down for par when she missed the green on No. 14, drained a 40 footer for birdie on 15, and saved par from six feet on the 16th hole.
Playing one group ahead of Shin in regulation, Song was the first to reach the 18th hole. She struck her approach to the uphill 386-yard, par-4 green and her shot landed 20 feet below the hole. In what looked like a perfectly executed stroke for birdie, Song's ball hung on the edge of the cup, dead center. One more dimple revolution and the ball would have been in the hole. Song took her par and waited for Shin to finish.
Shin's approach into the final hole in regulation landed 10 feet below the hole, giving the Californian a sense of eagerness to close out another win.
"The way I was putting today, I could have putted it with one hand," said Shin. "It was an easy putt, but I was really nervous."
Shin's birdie attempt rolled around the right side of the cup and hung on the back lip. She also took par. That sent the two players back to the 18th tee for the start of the sudden-death playoff.
The 18th hole is a tree-lined dogleg that requires a draw off the tee. For drives that land too far right, either a cut approach shot is required or a tricky uphill punch from below tree limbs. Song's drive landed in the right rough, requiring her to punch a 5-iron from under the trees. Too hot, the shot skipped through the green to the back rough. Now, Song was forced to delicately use her 58-degree wedge to carry her ball six yards and softly land it on the downhill green. Her shot stopped four feet from the hole and she saved par.
Shin's approach into the first playoff hole landed 25 yards below the hole in the middle of the green. She rolled her putt confidently uphill, but missed on the left side for a one-foot tap-in par. The pair of pars sent the two back to the 18th tee one more time for a second playoff hole.
This time, Shin's approach to the 18th green landed 35 feet below the hole. Her birdie attempt burned the right edge of the cup and rolled two feet past the hole.
"I thought that putt was going in," said Shin. "When I missed it, I knew Jennifer would make hers."
Song's approach into the 18th hole landed 20 feet below the hole. She and her father, Museok Song, a college professor caddying for his daughter during the summer months, stood below the hole, staring at the line. A sizeable crowd had pressed around the 18th green on this warm summer afternoon and the petite player knew what she had to do.
"It was like I saw the line burned into the green," she said. "I could see exactly where I wanted to hit it. I just needed to hit it a little firm."
And with that, Song stroked her birdie putt straight into the cup for her second win as a pro in the timeliest of weeks. Her $14,000 winner's check pushed her into the No. 4 spot on the season money list from her previous position of ninth place after eight tournaments. Right behind her with the $10,000 runners-up check, Shin moved from No. 6 to No. 5.
"Anything can happen in golf, and definitely this year, I have felt pressured a little bit," said Song. "A lot of players have played a full season and I've felt like there was a lot of catching up to do."
But not any more for Song, who keeps proving herself at every level.
A total of 31 players posted rounds under par, with 33 players carding rounds of even-par 216 or better at the Greater Richmond Golf Classic presented by Eagle Construction.
For scores and more information, visit duramedfuturestour.com.
Weather: Sunny with temperatures in the high 80s with a slight breeze.
photos Janos Schmidt