BLOOMFIELD, Conn., July 15, 2007 –
“I’m definitely ready to get over the hump of seconds, thirds and top-10s,” said the player from Dallas after Saturday’s second round. “I know I can do it.”
And today she did. Leon edged Mollie Fankhauser in a one-hole playoff to earn her first professional title at the $80,000 CIGNA Golf Classic. Both players tied at one-under 215 and both struggled with wind and untimely mistakes in the final round of the ninth annual Greater Hartford area event.
In spite of a lackluster three-over-par score of 75, Leon returned to the 18th tee for an extra hole against Fankhauser. She confidently stroked a driver to 109 yards from the flagstick, hit her pitching wedge to around 10 feet and two-putted for par.
Fankhauser, who won her first pro title in 2006, found herself between a 9-iron and pitching wedge on her 124-yard approach. She choked down on a 9-iron, but chunked her approach shot into the gaping front right bunker by the 18th green. Fankhauser blasted out to 10 feet, but missed her par putt on the left side to give Leon the win.
“It was dreadful today and I played terrible,” said Fankhauser of Columbus, Ohio, who carded a final-round 78 to drop into second place. “The golf course is very playable, but I definitely made it tough today.”
Measuring at 6,402 yards, Gillette Ridge Golf Club was buffeted by winds of up to 30 mph today – making the tough Arnold Palmer-designed course even more of a test. On top of that, a nearly one-hour storm delay temporarily derailed the momentum of the last three groups this afternoon, including Leon.
“During the rain delay, I was sitting there rolling my eyes and my mom said, ‘Anything can happen,’” said Leon, 20, who played the 2007 NCAA Women’s Golf Championship in May, then left the University of Georgia after two years. “And she was right.”
It was a day when anything could and seemingly did happen.
Fankhauser started the day with a three-shot lead over Leon, but lost that cushion when she triple-bogeyed the third hole. Leon grabbed a one-stroke lead when she rolled in her only birdie of the day from five feet on the fifth hole. But just when it looked as if Leon would take off, she came undone with four consecutive bogeys on holes 6 through 9.
“I walked away after the ninth hole and took a couple of deep breaths,” said Leon, who played the Duramed FUTURES Tour as an amateur while she was a high school student at the David Leadbetter Academy in Bradenton, Fla. “I was mad for getting ahead of myself.”
Leon scrambled for her par out of a bunker on the 10th hole and settled back down. She was now two shots behind Fankhauser, who bogeyed the 10th. But the former Ohio State University All-American rolled in a birdie on the 13th hole to signal another charge on the back nine. Even Leon knew the third-year pro wouldn’t give up.
“Mollie keeps her composure and she’s won before,” said the rookie. “She’s a great competitor.”
But Fankhauser, who led for the first two rounds, did the unthinkable with three holes to play. Carding an untimely bogey on the 16th, and a double-bogey on the 17th when she hit her tee shot three inches into the right hazard, she fell into a tie with Leon with one hole to play.
“I was shocked,” said Leon.
The door swung wide open when the two went into a playoff. Ji Min Jeong (73) of Kyungki, Korea and rookie Nicole Melton (73) of San Antonio tied at even-par 216, and were the closest chasers, but both ran out of holes. And in the season’s third playoff, most who remembered Fankhauser winning a two-hole sudden-death playoff in 2006, would have put their money on the player carrying her own clubs in a tangerine-colored Ping Moon bag.
But this time, it was the rookie who came out on top – which wasn’t a surprise to her caddie, 28-year LPGA Tour veteran Jerry (Woody) Woodard.
“Taylor does a lot of flag hunting,” said Woodard, who caddied for LPGA Hall of Famers Pat Bradley, Betsy King and current European Solheim Cup captain Helen Alfredsson. “She’s not scared. If she’s got a wedge in her hands, she’s going for that flag.”
And while she believed she could win, Leon admitted that leaving Georgia after two seasons to turn pro did step up the pressure she was already putting on herself.
“I think I always feel pressure because it’s kind of a scary, new situation,” said Leon, a two-time collegiate winner and the 2007 SEC Champion, who earned $11,200 for today’s win. “In the back of my head, I’m thinking, ‘What if something happens? What if I break my arm?’ I don’t have a degree.”
But she does have her first professional win after only two events. And it’s something Leon and her family has planned since those days when her mother drove teenaged Taylor to Florida and Texas tournaments. That was back when she and buddies Paula Creamer and Julieta Granada honed their skills together at the Leadbetter Academy and dreamed of winning as pros.
“She’s wanted to do this for a long time and today is really exciting,” said mother Katie Leon. “It is the beginning of a journey and this is a nice start.”
For scores and more information, visit www.duramedfuturestour.com.
Weather: Mostly sunny and humid with a high temperature of 88 degrees, turning cloudy and stormy with rain and lightning. Wind from 17 mph, gusting up to 30 mph. Play suspended at 4:31 p.m., due to lightning. Play resumed at 5:27 p.m., with cloudy skies and cooler temperatures dipping into the low 70s.
Contact: Lisa D. Mickey, Duramed FUTURES Tour at (863) 709-9100 and at [email protected]