Gina Kim can’t go more than a few steps this week at Plantation Golf and Country Club without seeing a staff bag. With 227 participants in the field for Level II of the LPGA Q-School, most of them Symetra Tour or new LPGA players, this is no surprise.
However, Kim’s blue Duke University stand bag won’t be as noticeable as you’d think.
The Blue Devils Senior is one of 14 current college players teeing off at the qualifying event in Venice, Florida this week. Like her colleagues, Kim hopes to advance to the two-week Q-Series later this fall and earn an LPGA card.
Kim, who won a medal in the first stage last August, will be supported by six other All-Americans in Stage II: the Arizona sisters Vivian and Yu-Sang Hou, Beatrice Wallin from the US state of Florida, Auston Kim from Vanderbilt , Karen Fredgaard from Houston and Kaleigh Telfer from Auburn. Brooke Matthews, Senior of Arkansas, Golfstat’s highest ranked individual and already with two wins for the Razorbacks this fall, also tees off, as do Emily Mahar of Virginia Tech, Brigitte Thibault of Texas, Polly Mack of Alabama, Libby Winans of Oklahoma , Katherine Zhu. by Cal and Sara Kjellker of San Diego State.
“I’m just trying to take it easy and not put too much pressure on myself,” Kim told GolfChannel.com on Tuesday evening, two days before the 72-hole stroke play event on the Bobcat and Panther courses from Plantation.
In a way, Kim and this current group of Q-School colleagues have little to lose. A by-product of finishing four rounds in this week’s no-cut event is Symetra status. So if they fail to qualify for the Q-Series, not only will they be able to return to their college teams, but there will be 13 events left on the feeder tour once the NCAA Women’s Championship ends in late May.
“After all of this, I still have a team to return to,” said Kim. “I still have a college to return to.”
Unlike their professional counterparts, however, these student-athletes have to make difficult decisions that become more difficult as they progress along this path of qualification. Will they accept their LPGA cards and go pro straight away, or will they postpone their status and return to school for spring?
Jennifer Kupcho and Maria Fassi both decided to postpone their status in 2019, with Fassi winning the NCAA singles title, Kupcho capturing the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and helping Wake Forest to a national second place. But in two years since the LPGA college gave players the chance to postpone this, these two are the only players who have earned LPGA status who actually do so.
Five college players in each of the last two Q-Series have dropped out of school.
Former Alabama Outstanding Actress Kristen Gillman, one of those 10, is a Stage II pro entrant. Gillman seeks to maintain her LPGA status along with celebrities Haley Moore, Mariah Stackhouse and Linnea Strom. Other professionals in this field are Sierra Brooks, Sophia Schubert, Frida Kinhult, Lucy Li, Gabi Ruffels, Kaitlyn Papp and Jaravee Boonchant.
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The current women’s college game has already lost three of its top subclasses in the past few months when aspiring juniors Linn Grant from Arizona, Pauline Roussin-Bouchard from South Carolina and Maja Stark from Oklahoma decided to drop out of school and enter the professional ranks. The talented trio recently scored five wins between the Ladies European Tour and the LET Access Tour, with Stark winning three times this summer and all three in the field this week.
It is likely that more of their peers will follow them to the pros before the year is over.
Before the fall season began, Arizona’s head coach Laura Ianello spoke with great enthusiasm about her squad, which is led by the Hou sisters and which adds several talented newcomers. There was only one caveat, however.
“The only thing that will be a big question mark for us is the Q-School,” said Ianello.
While none of Stage II’s 14 college students have officially declared their intentions, if the latest trend is true, it is unlikely that more than a few, if any, would return to school and bypass valuable early starts on either tour. Yet many insist that they remain undecided.
“I honestly find it too early,” Matthews said a few weeks ago. “I just focus on, you know, like week after week. I haven’t made my decision yet. I just focus on soaking up all of this time with my team and coaches. I love it here. We’ll just see how it goes. That is really all I can say. “
Kim is at a similar point in the decision-making process. Without knowing her status for the next year, she will find it difficult to make an informed and responsible decision. So she will wait until December.
“I’ve been thinking about it really hard,” said Kim. “It’s a tough decision and, to be honest, I’m still on the fence. I could make as many predictions as I want, but golf is probably the most unpredictable game, so I can’t say anything until I fully complete Q-School. My trainer understood and said, yes, let’s wait until after Q-School when we have all the cards in front of us and can make a decision. I’ll focus on all of that later and just try to play well and get some kind of status here. “
Just don’t think that Kim has already left college golf. After finishing the game on Sunday, she will board the I-75 to Atlanta as Duke completes his fall at the East Lake Cup.
Kim will not compete as she will miss Sunday’s training lap.
“But I wanted to come and watch,” said Kim. “I’ll be a cheerleader there.”