After winning the national championship last season, senior Stephanie Kono was excited to hunt down a second title with her teammates before embarking on her individual golf career.
But less than halfway through the season, she suddenly found herself with an LPGA Tour card in one hand, waving goodbye to the UCLA women’s golf team with the other.
She and fellow senior Brianna Do entered December’s Qualifying School, seeking cards for the LPGA Futures Tour.
They could join the Futures after graduating and finishing their college season, as opposed to qualifying for the LPGA Tour, which would call for them to start playing professionally right away.
The LPGA and the Futures Tours combined qualifying events this year for the first time.
After two rounds, both Bruins earned Futures cards, but the tournament director told Kono and UCLA coach Carrie Forsyth multiple times that if they did not compete in the final round, their Futures cards would get dropped.
Were Do or Kono to finish in the top 20, they would not have Futures cards ““ instead, they would have LPGA Tour cards.
Make sense? If not, you are not alone.
“I called several times because I couldn’t wrap my brain around why the LPGA wanted to discourage students from finishing their senior season,” said Forsyth.
It turned out Kono and Do could and should have been able to go home after round two.
Officials realized the error midway through round three, and told them that they could just drop out. Though Kono could have quit with a Futures card, she had spent lots of energy and money to get to the final stage.
Do was not in any danger of breaking the top 20, enabling her to finish with just a pass to the Futures Tour, but Kono was in second.
“You can’t drop out at that point,” said Forsyth. “It’s not realistic.”
She finished tied for ninth.
To grab hold of her dream, she had to give up her college career then and there.
“I’m hoping they’ll revisit the idea of excluding amateurs from the final stage … so things like this don’t happen,” said Forsyth.
Although Kono will still graduate with a degree from UCLA, not being able to play with the golf team for her senior year is a tough blow to handle.
The Bruins are now looking toward a future without their stat-leader. They are currently No. 1, a ranking which they are confident they can still uphold.
“We’re still the team to beat. It’s a motivator that (Kono) wants us to do well. We want to win for her,” junior Tiffany Lua said.
Forsyth is confident in her team’s ability to win even without Kono ““ the Bruins played without the senior while she was competing in qualifying schools and still managed top finishes.
“It’s disappointing that I can’t share (a title) with them. Watching women’s volleyball in December, right after this happened, made me sad. … I’ll be rooting for them,” Kono said.
Although she said she wished things could be different, Kono is now looking ahead to her future.
“I’m excited to play against the best in the world … it’s a dream come true.”