I'm not sure if I ever mentioned what my main outcome goal for the 2017 Symetra season was, but it was to finish in the top 25 on the money list. The main reason behind it was that the next 15 players after the top 10 get an exemption straight to LPGA Stage 3 Qualifying School. And I really wanted that. I knew the top 10 was going to be a big leap so I tried to set a more attainable goal. And to be truthful, at the beginning of my season, I was confident I could get it. But as the season progressed, it soon became apparent to me that I might have to settle for a little less this year.
My 1st tournament after my week off (I skipped the Arkansas tournament) was in Alabama, and it was hot one! I'm pretty sure we could've just steamed some crawfish right there on the cart paths! As for the golf, I hit the ball decently, but it always comes down to that little thing called putting. And I didn't make many putts so I wasn't surprised that I missed the cut by one again. Needless to say I worked on my putting like crazy.
But I had this thought in the back of my mind that something with my putter wasn't right. So I went to see Paul Boehmer (LPGA club repair man) who was at the next tournament in Longwood, FL. And you know something isn't right when he gives you that look. He said "this is the lightest putter I have seen in the last 20 years". Well, great. That isn't reassuring at all. So we added 30 grams of weight to my putter so that it balanced correctly (i.e. I wouldn't have to hit the ball so hard). And it felt a lot better.
Last year at the Longwood course, I played the best I had ever played over 4 rounds. So I was confident that I could and would play well. My 1st round started off pretty steadily, but then there was a torrential downpour that started on our 5th hole. The rules officials didn't blow the horn so we had to keep playing and it came to a point where we had to stop because the green was flooding. After an hour or so, we were able to resume play, but 5 holes later, the rain came down in buckets again. This time, there was thunder and lightning so our group ran back to the clubhouse. And after waiting around for a while to see if the storms would stop, they suspended play for the day. Needless to say, everyone was kind of grateful because we were completely soaked. Unfortunately, the rest of the tournament was kind of a disaster for me. I really struggled to hit the ball well and/or straight even though my putting was better.
The last tournament of the season was at LPGA International in Daytona, FL. I had good vibes going into this tournament and was confident I could pull it together. And to be honest, I didn't have a choice. I was sitting at #79 on the money list and wanted to stay in the top 80 so I could at least have full Symetra Tour status for 2018 which meant I had to play well. Everything was going smoothly until the 5th hole of my 1st round (something about these 5th holes!). If I thought the rain was bad in Longwood, I was in for a treat now. I had only hit two shots on that 5th hole and was soaked already! It was so windy that I had given up trying to use an umbrella as well. As I approached my 3rd shot, I knew it had landed just in the rough, but couldn't find it until one of the girls I was playing with was right on top of it. And what came next was probably the saddest/funniest moment I had ever had during a tournament.
I was about 100 yards from the green going straight into the wind, so I decided to hit 9 iron which was plenty of club. I was wrong. I'm pretty sure I took one of the best swings I had all day, but to my genuine surprise I had only hit the ball 2 yards! Yep, 2 YARDS!!! At first I was in shock, but then I started laughing my head off because how could you not! The rough was so thick and wet, and my ball was sitting so far down that I probably needed a shovel to dig it out of there! Anyways, I continued on and was actually able to hit the ball on the green on my next shot ;). Two holes later, play was suspended because everything was flooding. And that was start of the longest wait I've ever had during a tournament.
Basically the next 30 hours was a game of wait, prepare, warm up, stop, wait, prepare, warm up, stop again. We didn't get to finish our 1st round until 5:30pm the next day. Everything was a mess. I was in the morning wave for that 1st round, but some people in the afternoon wave started their 1st round at 6:45pm and played 1 hole! The rules officials decided to shorten the tournament to 54 holes with a Monday finish instead of the original 72 holes because we weren't all going to finish 2 rounds until Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, I had a stretch of 7 holes where I really didn't have a clue how to play golf. If you thought you couldn't miss a 1 foot putt when you've actually lined it up, I have proof that you can! Regardless, I was in the waiting boat. I had to wait and see if other players behind me on the money list would make the cut and pass me or not.
I'm pretty sure a miracle happened next because I finished exactly #80 on the money list! If you had looked at the stats from all the tournaments over the course of the year, there is no way I should've stayed in the top 80! But God does amazing things when you least expect them! I wasn't sure if I deserved it because I had missed the last 5 cuts, but maybe it was a sign from Him that there was still more to come for me even though I had tanked my way through the end of the season.
With the end of a season comes a new beginning. And it just so happened that my new beginning was only a week away. I spent the next week relaxing with minimal practice. My mom and I stayed near Venice, FL which was the site of LPGA Qualifying School - Stage 2. On one day, we took a trip down to Key Largo, and it was one of the most heartbreaking things I had seen in a while. Trees down everywhere, broken furniture on the side of the road, signs torn or snapped in half, many businesses closed. Hurricane Irma had really shattered the Florida Keys. We knew it had been bad, but it was hard to see the devastation in a place that wasn't as affluent and didn't have as many resources as bigger cities. There was one sign someone had put up on a piece of cardboard on the highway entering the Keys and it said "Welcome back home! #KeyStrong", and I was reminded that some people are struggling way more than I am but there is no reason to give up.
After that trip and a few more days of exploring, it was time to get back to work for Stage 2. I didn't stress too much about my swing and putting the week of the tournament because it had clearly done me no good throughout the season. Instead I chose to focus on basics like setup and course management since there were two courses (Bobcat and Panther) at Plantation Golf and Country Club.
I started my 1st round off pretty poorly. Bogey-double bogey. I realized I was leaning back in my setup so I was able to quickly adjust and get back on track. My game held up pretty well the rest of that round and until the last 9 holes of my 3rd round. I was hitting huge draws (like 30-40 yards!) and it was hard to get the ball on the green as you can imagine. So I hung on as best as I could for the rest of the round and went straight to the range after. Here's a tip: if you want to have a good chance at hitting the ball straight, you should probably setup with your shoulders, hips and feet all square to the target!! Anyways, I had work to do in the 4th round because the cut was at +6 and I was at +7. But I had a plan.
Go out and get as many birdies as you can right off the bat. That was the plan. I was going to play fearlessly but wisely at the same time. Go directly at safe pins, and play safe on tucked pins. And it worked! Birdie-birdie-birdie is how you want to start a round when you're under pressure. I had been playing in a way I hadn't been playing since the start of the season. I was 4-under going into my last 9 holes, so I decided to continue playing fearlessly when I could, but going for the middle of the green on any shots that didn't suit my eye.
As I approached the last green, I felt the biggest weight lift off my shoulders. I felt redeemed! The place that had denied me by one shot last year had been conquered! I had 6 putts to get the ball in the hole, but thankfully it didn't take that many! It was like I had finally reached the top of the mountain after being in the valleys for the past 5 months! God doesn't give you a challenge that He knows you cannot handle!
To be honest, I can pinpoint the exact day where the valleys began. And knowing that is kind of scary, but also very useful. I know this season didn't turn out exactly how I envisioned it, but hey, I'm still going to Stage 3! Just by different via points! I learned so much this season. Not necessarily about how the tour works, logistics and that kind of stuff like I learned last year. But more about me. I've come to a point where I'm really starting to distinguish and understand everything about how I play golf whether it's how I think, react, swing, putt, reflect, etc. And that to me is really incredible. When I started to play golf, I thought it was crazy how Tiger, Annika, or Lorena could know themselves and their games so well. But now I'm starting to truly get it. And I'm pretty sure that's why I had the valleys. I thank God for the valleys! Or else I may have been blinded by temporary success without a real understanding of how to create long lasting success. But I also thank God for the mountain tops because that’s how I'm reminded of how awesome He is!
Thank you to all who have been following along this season! I hope you've enjoyed what I've shared with you! It truly is a blessing to be on this journey and I can't wait to see where I'm going and how I'll get there! But for now, thanks for reading and wish me good luck at LPGA Qualifying School - Stage 3! :)