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Golf - 12. March 2008.

Duramed FUTURES Tour Opens 2008 Season This Week

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Defending champion Lori Atsedes, a 14th-year professional, returns to Lakeland, Fla., for the Bright House Networks Open, hoping to grab her eighth career win. Rookie Vicky Hurst, the Florida teen who won the Duramed FUTURES Tour’s Qualifying Tournament last November as an amateur, hopes her return to Cleveland Heights Golf Course as a pro will render the same results.

“I’m really excited and anxious to return to Cleveland Heights,” said Hurst, 17, a senior at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy in Melbourne, Fla. “I’m a professional now, playing with a whole new group of experienced players who know what they need to shoot. But I’ve had success on this golf course before and I’m going to keep that mindset going into this week.”

Atsedes, a self-described “plodder” who sometimes wins tournaments when others fall apart down the stretch, believes her chances to win are just as good as the young pros, who don’t have a history of bad shots in their collection of memories.

“Game-wise, from young to old, we all have good golf games,” said Atsedes, of Ithaca, N.Y., who turns 44 at the end of this month. “But so often, it comes down to who has a tough head. Last year, the tournament in Lakeland wasn’t about me leading and winning. It was about me plodding on, not making a lot of mistakes.”

Hurst’s stellar amateur record and top American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) ranking as the 2007 Rolex Player of the Year has eyes in golf following the nearly six-foot tall Korean-American player, who is featured in this week’s issue of Golfweek magazine. Hurst beat a field of more than 300 players in last November’s “Q-School” and seemed unfazed at such success, even as she and Michigan State University senior Sara Brown battled down to the 18th hole. Hurst had offers from college programs across the nation and didn’t decide until this winter that she was going to use her exempt status as a pro on the 2008 Duramed FUTURES Tour.

“I did consider what I was turning down [to turn pro] and I got a lot of good advice from teachers and coaches,” said Hurst, who will complete her final semester of high school studies while on the road this year. “Either way would have been the right decision for me, but I feel like I’m ready for this.”

Hurst plans to play a full schedule this year, perhaps only skipping the week of May 17th, when she graduates from high school.

When told that Duramed FUTURES Tour alums Angela Park and In-Bee Park also finished high school on the road prior to their high school graduations, Hurst pondered that thoughtfully before asking, “What did they do? Did they go to their graduations?”

And while Hurst might have a few butterflies in her gut heading into this week, the only butterflies Atsedes is feeling are the nerves of a closely guarded woman who is getting ready to have her soul bared in the April premiere of The Golf Channel’s popular golf reality show, “The Big Break.” Atsedes laughs about how a national golf magazine described her as “a drama queen who comes with baggage.” Regardless of how she is portrayed in the TV show, Atsedes says she has more business to take care of on the Duramed FUTURES Tour.

“I know I’m on the tail-end of my career while a lot of these kids are just getting started out here, but it’s something I still love and as long as I can figure out a way to be healthy and to stay in contention, I’m going to continue to do it,” she said. “There’s still room to improve.”

Looking to improve on her last three years of runner-up finishes is Brandi Jackson of Greenville, S.C., who finished seventh on the Tour’s 2007 Money List with nine top-10 finishes in 18 events. Jackson is always on the leader board and always in contention, but is eager to shed the reputation as the best player on tour who still hasn’t won.

“I’m really trying not to think too much about getting my first win,” said Jackson, a former All-American at Furman University and a 2008 non-exempt LPGA Tour member. “I’m thinking ‘Top Five’ this year. That’s my focus.”

And heading into the Tour’s first event in Lakeland, where she missed her only cut last year, Jackson says it’s important to get her season off to a better start. Last year, she didn’t feel “ready and comfortable.” This time, she hopes for a different feeling right out of the blocks.

“I’m ready to get the season started,” she said. “And hopefully, something will click this year.”
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