or the first time in 13 years, Sarah Jane Smith is back at LPGA Qualifying School. The Aussie mom’s excitement for returning began to build in July, and by the time the Pelican Women’s Championship concluded, Smith knew there was no turning back.
“It was a lot,” she admitted, “but once we got there, I felt like a little weight came off.”
Smith is one of 74 players who made the cut for the LPGA Q-Series’ second stage. The top 45 players and ties will be eligible for the 2022 season. Smith finished the 2021 season with a CME points ranking of 151st and a money ranking of 149th.
“It was always over my head,” Smith explained, “and then once Tampa was done, it was like, ‘Right, this is what we’re doing.'” There are no ifs or buts about it. I’ll be attending Q-School. ‘Let’s get this party started.’
At the RTJ’s Highland Oaks Highland & Marshwood Courses in Dothan, Alabama, Smith, 37, is on the veteran end of the experience scale. Play begins on Thursday, and the first 72 holes of the tournament are carried over. They’ll compete for a $150,000 prize pool.
Pauline Roussin-Bouchard of France leads the field with a score of 19 under par.
Ayaka Furue (No. 14), Atthaya Thitikul (No. 18), Hinako Shibuno (No. 38), Hye Jin Choi (No. 53), Na Rin An (No. 67), Emily K. Pedersen (No. 71), and Steph Kyriacou (No. 71) are among the top 100 Rolex Rankings players (No. 77).
Six amateurs, 17 Symetra Tour winners, nine LET winners, two Korea LPGA winners, three JLPGA winners, three China LPGA winners, and three Solheim Cup players are among the participants.
A shier Smith felt uneasy early on in her Q-School experience because she didn’t know anyone in the industry. She felt as if she didn’t belong.
“Now that I’ve spent a lot of time on the LPGA, and I don’t mean this in a negative manner, but it seems like there are a lot of girls coming out that either have no experience or have battled.
“So, we’re all here for a variety of reasons, some good, some bad. You simply have to keep in mind that everyone is here for a reason, and stay in your lane.”
Bianca Pagdanganan, 24, appeared to be on her way out of the Q-Series following a stellar half-season in 2020. She led the tour in driving distance, made a splash in her maiden major, and finished 60th on the money list in the CME Group Tour Championship.
However, none of that was carried over.
Pagdanganan made her first appearance of 2021, her true rookie season, at the ANA Inspiration in April and her final appearance at the ShopRite LPGA Classic in October. She earned only $68,215 in 2018, which is less than half of what she would make in 2020.
Pagdanganan sought to see the prospect of a second rookie season as a positive, emphasizing the advantages of success and experience. However, the outcomes were not as expected.
“Obviously, knowing how well I performed the prior year, I feel like this year was a little bit tougher,” Pagdanganan, who is tied for 19th entering the second week of the Q-Series, said.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself trying to force myself to play the same way I did last year, trying to be who I was last year, trying to, I don’t know, just play fantastic golf when I shouldn’t have.”