MORGANTOWN, W.Va., Aug. 12, 2007
The native of Dallas carded rounds of 65-69-69 this week for a three-day total of 203 (-13) to win the $80,000 Betty Puskar Golf Classic at The Pines Country Club. It was her first wire-to-wire victory and it was a three-shot win over LPGA Tour members Kris Tamulis (66) of Naples, Fla., and Vikki Laing (69) of Musselburgh, Scotland, who tied for second at 206 (-10).
“It’s really exciting, especially since I’ve won both ways – coming from behind and now, winning from start to finish,” said Leon, 20, who turned pro this spring after two years at the University of Georgia. “I haven’t been in this position before, but it’s great that I have the game to play out here. I didn’t doubt that I could do it.”
And neither should the gentleman at a pro-am dinner last Thursday, who met Leon and casually said to the rookie, “So, realistically, you don’t have a chance to get your card, do you?”
“That made me kind of mad and I probably gave him the evil eye,” said Leon, who went out the next day and shot her career-low score of 65 (-7) in the first round to take the early tournament lead in this year’s 16th annual event. “I was thinking, ‘Of course I have a chance,’ and I’m going to try my hardest to get one of those cards.”
No doubt, Leon has made that pretty clear to the rest of the Tour ever since her June arrival at the tournament in Decatur, Ill., where she finished 12th in her pro debut.
“It’s not like she’s 17 or anything,” said Tour member Kellee Booth (74) of McKinney, Texas, who played in today’s final pairing with Leon and finished tied for ninth. “She played in college, she’s played at the U.S. Women’s Open and she has some really good experience. I watched her play in the Curtis Cup and saw her excel there, so I knew she could excel on the next level.”
“I’ve heard people compare her to Paula Creamer,” said top-ranked Emily Bastel (68) of Upper Sandusky, Ohio, who tied for fourth. “At that age, they don’t have fear and when you come out here not knowing exactly what to expect, it’s almost easier to just go out and play your game. Kudos to her. She kept the hammer down all week.”
Leon admitted she was nervous on the first two holes. She bogeyed the second hole when she three-putted from 20 feet and the two players in her group both rolled in birdie putts. That’s when veteran LPGA Tour caddie Jerry “Woody” Woodard, who is working for Leon this season, got in his player’s ear and reminded her to start having some fun.
And how did Leon respond? Like a former David Leadbetter Golf Academy graduate whose only real concept of fear might be simply to resist the temptation of not throttling naysayers. Leon answered succinctly and effectively. She rolled in three consecutive birdies on holes four, five and six, from six feet, 20 feet and 20 feet, respectively. Just for good measure, she dropped in another 40-foot bomb for birdie on the eighth hole.
“She putted phenomenally well today and drained birdie and par putts from everywhere,” said Booth. “When she rattled off those three in a row on the front side, I figured at that point, we were playing for second.”
Leon got up and down for par on the 10th and 11th holes, made birdie from the fringe on the 13th hole from 25 feet, stumbled for her last bogey on the 15th, saved par from 15 feet on the 16th and took par on the last two holes to close the deal on her second win.
“I played with Taylor in Connecticut [where she won her first tournament] and she was just really steady,” said Laing, who posted her career-best runner-up finish on the Duramed FUTURES Tour this week. “All of these young players can only be good for women’s golf. They just push everybody else.”
“They come out prepared and ready,” added Bastel, who played two seasons on the LPGA Tour as an exempt member. “I played a lot with Paula [Creamer] my rookie year and consistency is what makes players like her very efficient.”
Of course, a healthy dose of competitive nature doesn’t hurt. Leon’s father played in a couple of U.S. Senior Open Championships and got Taylor and her two brothers started in golf at young ages. By age 7, Taylor had played in her first tournament. By college, she and her teammates would hightail it from practice each day, racing in their respective cars back to the dorms or off to dinner. It’s a little hard to picture the tall, smiling Texan with the red ribbon in her hair laying down rubber on the streets of Athens (Ga.) against her pals just for bragging rights.
But then again, it was Leon who put the hammer down today and made it clear to everyone, including that well-intending, but naïve gentleman at the pro-am dinner, that three more tournaments certainly is plenty of time to move up the money list, finish in the top five to earn a 2008 LPGA Tour card and to move on.
Just like Tour alums Lorena Ochoa and Grace Park, who both won this event a few years ago before moving on the LPGA Tour, one gets the real sense that Taylor Leon is just playing through.
For scores and more information, visit www.duramedfuturestour.com.
Weather: Mostly sunny and fair, turning partly cloudy. High temperature of 85 degrees with winds at 7 mph.
Contact: Lisa D. Mickey, Duramed FUTURES Tour at (863) 709-9100 and at email@example.com.
photo Getty Images
photo Getty Images