Moments after 17-year-old Jessica Korda signed her scorecard on Sunday, an LPGA Tour official approached her with a question: “Are you turning pro?”
Korda, who played on the victorious 2010 USA Curtis Cup Team and was the runner-up at the 2010 U.S. Women’s Amateur, wasted little time with her response: “Yes.”
Despite struggling to a 5-over-par 77 on the Champions Course at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla., the Bradenton, Fla., resident finished in second place at the 90-hole LPGA Tour Final Qualifying Tournament.
The 20 low scorers at the tournament earned Priority 11 status for the 2011 LPGA Tour. Korda finished two strokes behind 1999 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Aree Song of Korea for medalist honors. The 24-year-old Song, once a teen prodigy like Korda, managed a final-round 73 for a 6-under-par total of 354.
“I knew I always wanted to turn pro, but I never thought I’d do it this year,” said Korda, who remained an amateur this fall so she could participate in the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship in Argentina, where she helped the USA finish second. “I’ve had a really good year and I’m so glad I get to finish it out here, turning pro at LPGA Q-school.”
Because she played the tournament as an amateur, Korda was ineligible for prize money. Song collected $5,000 for the victory, and the second-place check of $4,500 went to Jimin Jeong of Korea.
Gusty winds of up to 30 mph and temperatures in the mid-50s made scoring conditions for the final round difficult. Korda, who was bidding to be the first amateur to win Q-School since 2010 U.S. Women’s Open champion Paula Creamer six years ago, held the 72-hole lead by two strokes over Song. Only three of the 20 golfers who earned Priority 11 status for 2011 managed to better par in the final round.
“It was a tough, tough day because it was really windy, and I lost my balance about 20 times,” said Korda, the daughter of 1998 Australian Open tennis men’s singles champion Petr Korda. “But this is a dream come true.”
Despite gaining her tour card for 2011, Korda won’t be an official member –per LPGA Tour bylaws – until she turns 18 on Feb. 27. She can play in the first few events on exemptions, but any money earned will not be considered official.
As for Song, it was her best finish in an LPGA event since her runner-up showing at the 2004 Kraft Nabisco Championship. Along with her twin sister, Naree, Song had a brilliant junior and amateur career. After winning the 1999 Girls’ Junior as a 13-year-old, she became the youngest semifinalist in U.S. Women’s Amateur history the following year. She also played in the final grouping at the 2000 Kraft Nabisco Championship. She was the first teen prodigy to enter LPGA Tour Q-School in 2003 as a 17-year-old. Since then, Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Vicky Hurst and Korda have followed suit.
But recent physical setbacks have slowed Aree, including a shoulder injury in 2009 that she sustained at the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic. Song told Golfweek that her game has started to turn around over the past 45 days, and she is hoping that Q-School will be the springboard to a positive 2011 season.
“When I step on the course, I feel like I can make birdies, and that’s key for me,” Song told Golfweek. “I’ve been playing too defensively the last two years.”
Last month, Song also earned playing privileges on the Korean LPGA Tour. She has also started taking online classes at the University of Phoenix to prepare for life after golf.
Besides Song and Korda, three other golfers with USGA ties earned Priority 11 status, including 2006 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion and two-time Curtis Cup participant Kimberly Kim. Kim spent the 2009-10 academic year at the University of Denver, but dropped out after her freshman season. She turned pro after the Curtis Cup in June and made her professional debut at the Women’s Open, where she missed the cut.
The Hilo, Hawaii, native carded a final-round 70 on Sunday to share 14th position at 2-over 262.
Mollie Fankhauser, a member of the 2002 USA Curtis Cup Team, also tied for 14th at 262, shooting a final-round 73. Fankhauser has shuffled between the LPGA and Duramed Futures tours.
Dori Carter, who helped Georgia win the 2009 USGA Women’s State Team Championship at Sycamore Hills in Fort Wayne, Ind., tied for 12th at 361, despite shooting a final-round 75. The University of Mississippi graduate and Valdosta, Ga., resident worked herself into solid position with scores of 70-71 in rounds three and four.
Two past Curtis Cup participants earned Category 16 (conditional) status by finishing between 21st and 30th. Tiffany Joh of San Diego, Calif., a two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links champion and a 2008 Curtis Cup member, carded a final-round 71 to share 22nd position with Jenny Suh, who recorded the winning point for the U.S. in the 2006 Curtis Cup Match.
That group also included Shasta Averyhardt of Flint, Mich., who became the first African-American to earn LPGA Tour membership since 2001. She will be only the fourth African-American to play on the tour. Averyhardt qualified for the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open and reached the round of 32 at the 2008 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links.
Alison Walshe of Westford, Mass., a member of the 2008 USA Curtis Cup Team, was one of 10 golfers to earn Priority 20 status for 2011. Walshe shot a final-round 74 to share 33rd position at 6-over 366 with 2008 Great Britain and Ireland Curtis Cup member Jodi Ewart of England.
Golfers attaining either Priority 16 or 20 status are eligible for LPGA Tour event Monday qualifying and will get into a number of full-field events, while Priority 11 golfers are virtually guaranteed to get into full-field events in 2011.
Those making the 72-hole cut but failing to obtain any LPGA status for 2011 included 2001 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion and 2002 Curtis Cup participant Meredith Duncan, 2000 Great Britain and Ireland Curtis Cup member Becky Brewerton, 2009 U.S. Women’s Amateur runner-up and 2010 USA Curtis Cup member Jennifer Johnson, 2000 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Lisa Ferrero and 2007 U.S. Girls’ Junior runner-up Ayaka Kaneko.
Kaneko and Duncan lost in a playoff for the final Priority 20 cards.
Among those golfers missing the 72-hole cut were two-time USGA champion Dorothy Delasin, three-time USGA champion Kelli Kuehne and 2010 Great Britain and Ireland Curtis Cup member Danielle McVeigh of Ireland.
David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.