SYRACUSE, N.Y., July 22, 2007
Duramed FUTURES Tour rookie Violeta Retamoza fanned the flames today when she rallied with a final-round 67 to win her first professional title at the $80,000 Alliance Bank Golf Classic. Retamoza carded rounds of 75-66-67 for a three-day total of 208 (-5) to edge defending champion Ha Na Chae (69) of Seoul, Korea by one shot. Chae finished second at four-under-par 209.
“I’m really excited and I have been waiting for this,” said the rookie from Aguascalientes, Mexico. “I knew I had to keep fighting and I guess everything fell into place.”
Interestingly, Retamoza was chasing good friend Cortney Reno in today’s final round at The Links at Erie Village. Reno had a two-shot lead heading into today’s final round and had built a two-stroke lead over Chae and Brandi Jackson after her birdie on the eighth hole. But as luck would have it, Reno yanked her tee shot left and out of bounds on the par-five seventh hole. By the time she had putted out for double-bogey, the one-time Tour winner had dropped into a three-way tie for the lead.
“I never hit it left when I miss,” said Reno of Grosse Ile, Mich. “There was no wind and nothing to contend with. I have no idea where that came from.”
Reno bogeyed the next hole and scored all pars until she three-putted the 17th for bogey to drop into a tie for fourth at 211 (-2) alongside Kim Welch (67) of Sacramento, Alissa Kuczka (70) of Phoenix and Kelly Cavanaugh (70) of Palos Verdes, Calif.
Playing in the last group with Reno, Chae stood on the 18th tee and watched Retamoza roll in her birdie putt. The Korean knew she had to hole out from the fairway for eagle to force a playoff. It was a tall order for the player who fought with her driver for most of the front nine and struggled to hold greens on the back.
“I hit 15 greens, but all of my putts were long,” said Chae, who birdied the last hole to secure solo second place. “I was just trying to finish strong.”
Like Reno, Jackson also bogeyed the 17th hole. A co-leader prior to that ill-timed bogey, the player from Greenville, S.C., carded a two-under-par score of 69 to drop into third place at 210 (-3). All day, there were a number of challengers, but by the round’s end, it was Retamoza who closed the deal.
“Vi didn’t have a bogey today and her score could have been even better than it was because she left some putts out there,” said Kuczka, who travels with Retamoza and played in the same pairing as her friend today.
The funny thing about Retamoza is that so many of the players who wanted today’s win just as badly as she did, were thrilled that the rookie finally broke through for her first victory. They had watched her finish second in Frisco, Texas earlier this season, and watched her tie for second four tournaments ago in Batavia, Ohio. And before that, many of them had watched her win four times as a member of the University of Tennessee’s women’s golf team.
Fellow Duramed FUTURES Tour member Jessica Shepley was the one who convinced her not to leave Tennessee after her first miserable semester. Shepley recognized the Mexican’s talent and told her that the Tennessee team needed her to stay.
“She missed her family very much and going to school over here, she had to learn a new language and a lot of new things,” said Shepley, of Oakville, Ontario. “She matured a lot. And because she works so hard, she has become a phenomenal golfer with an incredible golf swing.”
In a way, that first year of culture shock seems like yesterday to Retamoza. But even her own mother told her that she had to stick out college in the States for one full year. At the time, it seemed daunting. But today, Shepley -- the player who begged Retamoza to stay in school, and then four years later begged her to turn pro -- was the first one to wrap the Mexican in a bear hug as she walked off the 18th green.
“I remember feeling so homesick and really wanting to go home, but I stayed and learned and each year it got easier,” said Retamoza, who turned 24 during Friday’s first round. “It’s great to know that at some point, everything pays off. I am happy with my life, and happy people play good golf.”
Retamoza’s “good golf” today came after eight holes of patient pars. She drained a 25-foot birdie putt on the ninth hole and a 10-footer for birdie on the 12th. The Mexican player had no idea where she stood in the tournament until she walked past the leaderboard on the 15th green. Seeing that she was one shot off the lead, she turned up the heat.
A big hitter, Retamoza decided to go for the green on the risk/reward 300-yard, par-four 16th hole. Her drive came up just short of the green and she chipped up and tapped in for birdie. Her 5-iron approach from 155 yards on the 18th hole landed 24 feet from the hole. Calmly, the shy, freckle-faced Mexican with curly red hair rolled the winning putt right into the heart of the cup to give herself a two-shot cushion with only one group remaining on the course. When Chae’s attempt to hole out missed, the hugs for Retamoza began.
“If I can’t win, I want one of my friends to win,” said Reno. “I didn’t really have it today and I knew somebody was going to go low. I’m glad Vi was the one. I’m really, really happy for her.”
“We play a lot of matches in our practice rounds and she’s very steady,” said Kim Brozer of Red Deer, Alberta, who won the 2005 Syracuse tournament. “She’s fighting for her position on the money list and to do this now at this time of the season is just clutch playing.”
With her payday of $11,200, Retamoza jumps from ninth to sixth on the money list and is just one position away from the top five players who earn 2008 LPGA Tour cards at season’s end. With five tournaments remaining, she also moved into second place on the rookie list, just $4,690 behind rookie-of-the-year leader Seo-Jae Lee of Seoul, Korea.
“I know the money list is important, but most of all, it’s just a great feeling that I can do this,” said Retamoza, who became the second Mexican player behind alum Lorena Ochoa to win on the Duramed FUTURES Tour.
Admittedly, Retamoza wants to give her home country one more player to cheer for. Good friends with top-ranked Ochoa, Retamoza says the LPGA superstar has set a good example. Now, she wants to add to the list of women professionals who can win in golf.
“It feels awesome that we are out here and we are winning,” she said. “What Lorena is doing on the LPGA Tour is unbelievable, but I think she also appreciates that we can win on this tour, too. I’m representing my country the best I can and I think we all feel good to know that Mexico is now moving up there in women’s professional golf.”
It’s up there, for sure. And getting hotter all the time.
For scores and more information, visit www.duramedfuturestour.com.
Weather: Mostly sunny and fair with a high of 81 degrees. Winds slight at 7 mph.
Contact: Lisa D. Mickey, Duramed FUTURES Tour at (863) 709-9100 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Picture by Alex Broadway/SWpix.com