UCLA senior Stephanie Kono didn’t plan to earn her LPGA Tour playing privileges this year. But in a bittersweet turn, it happened anyway.
The LA Times reports that Kono traveled to Florida last week just hoping to earn a spot on the Futures Tour so she could play professionally after finishing college this spring. Her plan was to finish out her final golf season at UCLA, leaving with a degree and maybe even an NCAA championship.
Instead, Kono tied for ninth overall and is now in possession of a coveted LPGA Tour card — but unfortunately it also makes her ineligible to play her senior season at UCLA.
Of the 20 top finishers who earned full LPGA status at last week’s Qualifying School, Kono was probably the only one a bit disappointed.
Junthima Gulyanamitta won the Qualifying Tournament, closing with 4-under 68 for a two-stroke victory over Christine Song. The 23-year-old Gulyanamitta, a member of Purdue’s 2010 NCAA championship team, had a 10-under 350 total in the five-round event.
The only other player to give up her amateur status at the tournament was Argentina’s Victoria Tranco, a 17 year old who lives in Bradenton, Florida.
So how did such a mix-up happen and Kono find herself torn between amateur and professional status? The LPGA and the Futures Tour used to have separate qualifying tournaments, and most college players entered the Futures event. This year the two were combined. There are three stages, the final one being five rounds that began last Wednesday. Players are allowed to defer a Futures Tour card, and even play the tour as an amateur but rules don’t allow players to defer an LPGA card.
Kono, an All-American and member of the 2010 U.S. Curtis Cup team, and her Bruin coach, Carrie Forsyth, were confused about the qualifying process. After Kono advanced to the third stage, Forsyth twice called LPGA officials to inquire if Kono needed to play in the final stage to secure a spot on the Futures Tour. And twice Forsyth was told that Kono did, indeed, need to play in the third stage to get her Futures card.
“I’m obviously disappointed that I didn’t get the correct information from the LPGA,” Kono said Monday. “I wish I had received the correct information from the start. I’m definitely happy I got my LPGA card, but I feel robbed a little bit too. It’s mixed feelings.”
Had she been told correctly that she could play the Futures Tour just by advancing to the five-day final — instead of after the start of the competition — Kono said she wouldn’t have bothered to come to LPGA International. But she did play, finishing T-9.
LPGA spokesman Mike Scanlan acknowledged that Kono had received incorrect information from the LPGA (oops my bad he probably said). Although it was an isolated incident and the organization has accepted responsibility for the mistake, Scanlan said there would be no exception to the rule that LPGA membership can’t be deferred.
The 22-year-old Kono, who is from Honolulu, could have refused the card, returned to play at UCLA and started the process from scratch next year.
“But you never know,” Kono said. “In one way, I’ve reached my dream — to play on the LPGA Tour. You can’t say no. I just wish it hadn’t happened this way.”
Forsyth, who is a two-time NCAA winning women’s coach, graciously expressed her happiness for Kono, despite what it meant for the Bruins’ program. Ranked No. 1 in the Golf World/NGCA coaches’ poll all fall, the Bruins’ looked to be heavy favorites to repeat as NCAA champions this spring.
In the end, Kono was granted one exception by the LPGA: All the other rookie LPGA Tour members had to stay in Florida for orientation. Kono received permission to leave early so she could return to UCLA to take final exams starting Tuesday.
What do you think? Should the LPGA have made a one-time exception and let Kono defer her LPGA Tour card until the end of her senior year?