WINTER HAVEN, Fla. Tiffany Joh came into this week's Duramed FUTURES Tour Qualifying Tournament hoping for a confidence boost as she heads into the LPGA's Final Q-School next month. The Californian likely got what she came for, finishing the week as medalist after today's final round.
Joh carded rounds of 67-69-72-67-73 for a 12-under 90-hole total of 348 at Lake Region Yacht & Country Club. Prevailing winds of 15 mph or more buffeted the lakeside course throughout the final round, making club selection difficult throughout the day.
"It was like being a bomb technician out there," quipped Joh, 22, a rookie professional out of San Diego. "Sometimes it was like, 'red wire or blue wire?' That's what it felt like picking a club today, but you just had to make a choice and commit to hitting that club. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't."
And while she was able to laugh about the three extra clubs she played into the wind on the 18th green, where she flew the green, landed in the back of a back bunker, and then made a six-foot putt for bogey, Joh showed the kind of mettle she displayed throughout her amateur and collegiate career as a former All-American at UCLA and two-time U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links champion.
In a week that included five rounds on four different golf courses, Joh led or shared the lead in four rounds. And while she missed four of her last five greens in regulation today, rather than giving up as winds pummeled the weary field into submission, the Californian just kept fighting, getting up and down for par out of bunkers twice in three holes down the stretch.
"I was making really good par saves," said Joh, who played her rookie professional season on the Duramed FUTURES Tour this year. "All week, I was hitting 15 to 16 greens every day, but today was different because the wind would switch, making it hard to do that. I could have shot an 80 today and I'd still be super-happy about this week."
Danielle Mills, 22, of Pointe-Claire, Quebec, carded a final-round score of 2-over 74 today and finished one shot behind Joh at 349 (-11). The rookie professional, who graduated from Elon University (N.C.) this spring, carded rounds of 67-71-69-68-74. She led after the third round and shared the lead after 72 holes with Joh.
Mills rolled in a pair of birdies on her first 10 holes, but three-putt greens knocked her off track for bogey on the 15th and a double-bogey on the 16th. She was unable to save par from a bunker on the 17th.
"I'm very happy with my week and it's been a big surprise because I've never put together five solid rounds before, with four rounds under par," said Mills, the 2007 and 2009 Quebec Provincial Match-Play champion. "This week just confirmed that I'm ready to play out here. This is a great place to prepare for the big league."
Finishing in the solo third spot at 353 (-7) was Laura Bavaird of Grosse Ile, Mich., a 2008 graduate of Western Michigan University and a 2009 rookie on the Duramed FUTURES Tour. Bavaird carded a final-round score of one-under 71 today in a round that included four birdies, one bogey and a double-bogey.
"A lot of my shots were punch shots today and I was in between clubs a lot," said Bavaird, 23. "But I chose a good week to play well."
Like the other players, Bavaird struggled with club selection, admitting that she "had a 137-yard shot on one hole and played [her] 160-yard club."
Kitty Hwang of Guayaquil, Ecuador had the day's low round of 3-under 69 to jump from a tie for ninth into a tie for fourth with Mallory Blackwelder (74) of Versailles, Ky., at five-under 355.
"Today, I feel like I had a good strategy against the wind," said Hwang, 25, who also will be playing in the LPGA's Final Qualifying Tournament next month. "For most of the week, I missed only one green each day, but today, I missed three or four greens because of the wind."
Blackwelder, on the other hand, had a day that featured three birdies, three bogeys and a double-bogey on the par-five 13th hole that included a four-putt green.
"I was tapping in a 3-putt green and it lipped out," said Blackwelder, a recent University of Kentucky graduate who also will be playing the LPGA Q-School next month. "Today, it was a little bit of everything."
Amateur Laura Kueny of Whitehall, Mich., had a tougher day with a final-round score of five-over 77 to drop from a tie for third into ninth place. The Michigan State University senior struggled with three bogeys and a single birdie on the front nine today, followed by one birdie and four consecutive bogeys on her last four holes on the back nine.
"I started getting into trouble off the tee, which might have been a little bit of nerves," said Kueny, 21, who plans to compete in the World University Games in Spain next spring before turning professional after her senior season. "Obviously, I wanted to play better than I played, but it was a great experience. Now I know I can hang with these girls."
Moving into a tie for sixth at 4-under 356 were amateurs Jane Rah (70) of Torrance, Calif., and Jodi Ewart (74) of North Yorkshire, England. Rah is a freshman at Oklahoma State University and Ewart is a senior at the University of New Mexico.
Rounding out the top 10 was Duramed FUTURES Tour rookie Stephanie Connelly (74) of Pasadena, Md., winner of the LPGA's Florida Sectional Qualifying Tournament, who finished eighth at 3-under 357, and 10th place finisher Nannette Hill (74) of Pelham, N.Y., at one-under 359.
Eleven players finished at even-par 360 or better after five rounds of this year's Duramed FUTURES Tour Qualifying Tournament.
Ninety-six players made the tournament cut at 301 (+13) Thursday after 72 holes. The cut field of 90 players returned to Lake Region for today's final round.
A field of 287 players from 38 nations competed in Central Florida this week on four courses in Polk County for 2010 Duramed FUTURES Tour playing status. The 90-hole tournament has been staged at Winter Haven's Lake Region Yacht & Country Club, Ridgewood Lakes Golf & Country Club in Davenport, Fla., and Lakeland's Huntington Hills Golf & Country Club and The Golf Club at Bridgewater.
A total of 275 players and ties will earn status for the 2010 Duramed FUTURES Tour, but players earning Priority 1 (full) status will be determined after the completion of the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament. Once status is determined for the 2010 LPGA Tour, status will be assigned on the 2010 Duramed FUTURES Tour.
FRANK UIJLENBROEK WORLDSPORTPICS