Lisa Meldrum became the third Canadian to win on the 2009 Duramed FUTURES Tour today when she captured her first Tour title at the $100,000 iMPACT Classic.
The quiet champion not only grabbed her first professional title Stateside, but she broke free from a crowded leaderboard and posted a final-round score of 5-under 67 to finish at 208 (-8) at Richmond Country Club.
Tied for second at 209 (-7) was the trio of Gerina Mendoza (68) of Roswell, N.M., Song Yi Choi (69) of Seoul, South Korea, and Pernilla Lindberg (73) of Bollnas, Sweden.
"It feels unbelievable," said Meldrum, 27, a fourth-year professional from Montreal, Quebec, who jumped from 45th to 15th on the Tour's season money list. "I expected to be in a playoff and I was preparing for that. My heart was pounding a little fast on the last hole, so when I finished, I just went up to the practice green and waited."
But from the practice green, located behind the 18th hole, the Canadian tried to calm her nerves as the final three groups finished their rounds. She knew that Choi needed to make a birdie to force the playoff and she knew that Lindberg's approach to the final hole had landed short of the green. Lindberg would have to chip in to force an extra hole.
"I heard the crowd go 'Awwwwwww' after each and I knew they had missed, and then the next thing I knew, [the Tour staff] came to get me for the trophy presentation," said Meldrum, who won her first professional title at the 2006 CN Canadian Women's Tour Championship.
All week long, Richmond Country Club's smooth-rolling and speedy greens had drawn high praise from the pros. An old-fashioned what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of course with subtleties both in the fairways and on the greens required careful course management. The final three finishing holes, all par-4s, demanded well-placed tee shots to avoid being blocked out by mature trees lining the fairways. Playing at 6,278 yards, the par-72 course was not the Tour's longest, but it proved to be challenging, particularly on the greens.
In today's final round alone, there were eight lead changes by early afternoon with as many as five players crowded at the top of the leaderboard and that many more right behind, one shot back.
Lindberg, the former Oklahoma State University All-American who had led after the first and second rounds, held the lead through six holes today, but she stumbled with a double-bogey on No. 7 to fall into a four-way tie at seven under. A long-hitter who used mostly 3-woods off the tee all week, Lindberg birdied two of the last three par-5 holes, but bogeys on the 13th (a lip-out putt for par) and on the 16th (where she was "on the wrong side of the hole" from 12 feet) were costly down the stretch. The rookie saved par from eight feet on the 17th, but when she pushed her approach shot on No. 18 and clipped a tree to fall short of the green, it left her with a tall task to catch the Canadian.
"It was tight all day," said Lindberg, who moved to No. 10 on the Tour's 2009 money list with two tournaments to play. "It's a little bit disappointing, but I'm pleased with the whole tournament. You always want to win, but this was another great experience."
Mendoza picked up steam on the back nine to move onto the leaderboard with four birdies on her last seven holes. The popular player from the Golf Channel's recent "Big Break Prince Edward Island" series and one who already has finished second twice on the Duramed FUTURES Tour, stayed steady on the back nine today and finished the round hitting 16 greens in regulation. She ended with a 27-foot side-hill breaking putt for birdie on the last hole for a share of second place once again.
Choi, who also has a runner-up finish this season, grabbed the lead today after 12 holes only to be chased down by Lindberg, Meldrum and three-time season winner Mina Harigae (72) of Monterey, Calif., who ultimately tied for fifth at 6-under 210. Eventually, it was only Choi and Meldrum and then, it was only Meldrum as players ran out of holes and late mistakes left them short of a playoff invitation.
Choi three-putted for bogey on the 16th, and attempted to roll in a 15-foot birdie putt on the last hole. Instead, she tapped in for par.
"My irons were good, but I had two 3-putts," said Choi, who hit 17 greens in regulation, but needed 34 putts today. "I didn't play bad, but it was not easy."
Rookie Jennie Lee (68) of Henderson, Nev., also held the lead briefly today. She hit all nine greens on the front and rolled in three birdie putts from 10 to 12 feet, making the nine-hole turn at three under.
"When I had an opportunity for birdie, I made the putts," said Lee, a recent Duke University graduate. "It was a solid stretch on the front nine."
Lee birdied two of the first three holes on the back, but on her last four, she missed two 10-foot birdie chances and had to scramble to get up and down for par from a bunker on the 17th. The kicker was missing a four-foot downhill par putt on the 18th.
"I just didn't feel as comfortable with my putter as I did earlier in the round," she said. "I made some late errors."
All this time, Meldrum was quietly producing a bogey-free, five-birdie round. She glanced at the leaderboard from the 12th hole during today's final round. She didn't look at the names, but she could see a bunch of players at -8, -7 and -6.
"I was at six under and I knew it was in reach," she said. "I knew 16, 17 and 18 were good finishing holes, so when I got to the 16th, I told myself, 'Let's do this. Let's make some birdies. Let's finish it off.'"
Meldrum did make birdie on holes 12, 14 and 15, lacing her approach to one foot on the 14th and to five feet on the 15th. She had a 12-foot birdie chance on No. 17, but it didn't find the cup, and on the 18th hole, the best she could do was make her 15-foot birdie chance a two-putt par.
Only then, on the 18th, did she glance at the leaderboard. She saw that she was alone at the top. And she knew there were three groups with nine players behind her.
A lot of things went through Meldrum's head on the practice green as she putted and waited and wondered if, at last, this would be her week.
"Out here, you work hard and you see the low numbers every week," she said. "You play with the winners all the time and you think you should be there."
When fellow Canadian Samantha Richdale of Kelowna, British Columbia won in Louisiana back in April, Meldrum was happy. And when Angela Buzminksi of Oshawa, Ontario won the Duramed FUTURES Tour tournament a week later, she was happy again. Even last year, when Ontario native Jessica Shepley played well all season and contended often, Meldrum was happy for her friend. But watching them all lit a little fire under her. If the Canadians were going to start stepping up Stateside, she might as well be among them.
"I knew that I had it in me and I kept telling myself that I just had to be patient and stay determined," said Meldrum, a three-time Canadian National Amateur champion who became a three-time collegiate winner at the University of Oklahoma. "I knew it was going to be my turn at some point."
And today, when it was finally her turn, Lisa Meldrum was more than ready.
For scores and more information, visit duramedfuturestour.com.
Weather: Sunny with temperatures reaching the low 90s with only a slight breeze.