Sunday, February 9, 2014

She Did It! Cheyenne Woods Holds Off Minjee Lee to Claim Her 1st Professional Victory!

Cheyenne Woods made the Volvik RACV Ladies Masters her 1st professional victory on a major tour when she shot a 5-birdie 69, highlighted by a bogey-free closing 33, to hold off Australian amateur sensation Minjee Lee by 2 shots.  The turning point came on the 9th hole, after Lee had birdied the 3 previous holes in a row to catch Woods at -12.  When Woods birdied the 492-yard par 5, she never looked back, adding 3 more birdies on the back 9 to outsprint Lee, who also played bogey-free golf on the back, but could birdie only the 12th and the 18th.  The only other players to finish double digits under par--Woods and Lee's playing partner Stacy Lee Bregman (72, -12) and Camilla Lennarth (70, -12)--also poured it on down the stretch, but it was too little, too late to catch Lee, much less deny Woods.

Woods's triumph came over a fairly impressive field.  Solheim Cup heroine Caroline Hedwall closed with a bogey-free 66 to catch KLPGA Rookie of the Year candidate Minsun Kim and Korean amateur So Young Lee at -9; Belen Mozo's 9-birdie 65, the low round of the week, allowed her to meet Jessica Korda, who fired a bogey-free 69 that included an eagle on the par-5 3rd, at -8; and Ya Ni Tseng joined Gwladys Nocera and Charley Hull in the top 10 at -7 thanks to an 8-birdie 66.  The cream of the field certainly rose to the top, or at least near it, as Dewi Claire Schreefel and Sarah Jane Smith's 69s moved them to -5, Laura Davies, Chella Choi, and Sarah Kemp's 70s brought them to -4 with Tiffany Joh and Xi Yu Lin, among others, while Lindsey Wright (-3), Kyu-Jung Baek (-3), Joanna Klatten (-3), Mi Hyang Lee (-2), Maria Hernandez (-2), Marianne Skarpnord (-2), Lee-Anne Pace (-1), Shin-Ae Ahn (-1), Ashleigh Simon (-1), Melissa Reid (E), Line Vedel (E), Thidappa Suwannapura (E), Amelia Lewis (E), Lorie Kane (+1), Katherine Kirk (+1), and Char Young Kim (+1) at least played respectably.

But the day belongs to Cheyenne Woods.  I've been following her career for quite a while, and from the very start, I noted that whereas it seemed to always take her awhile to adjust to the rigors of a new level of competition, she always seemed to adjust over time.  To tell you the truth, though, her 1st pro win outside the SunCoast Series is as much of a surprise to me as her first collegiate one was.  The only other time she'd been near the top of an LET leaderboard, back in last July, she flamed out pretty dramatically.  Although she had a solid 2013 on the LET, finishing 78th on their Order of Merit in only 11 starts, she just barely held onto her card and got off on the wrong foot at LPGA Q-School (finishing 15 shots behind Jaye Marie Green's then-record-breaking 62 on its opening day), eventually missing the 72-hole cut by 5 shots.  So for her to make this kind of quantum leap so early in 2014 is super-impressive!

We'll have to see what she does with this in the coming weeks and months.  Assuming she wants to take advantage of her win, she'll face a much, much stronger field this coming week at the tri-sponsored ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open (where she's currently not on the field list, just like defending champion Ji-Yai Shin).  After that, she'll have to decide whether to stay on the LET and accept sponsor invitations into LPGA events or try her luck on the Symetra Tour.  It's an open question whether it's easier to get 2015 LPGA membership via Category 9 (non-member top-40 equivalent on the LPGA money list) or Category 10 (top 10 on the Symetra Tour money list) on the Priority Status List, but I lean strongly toward the latter (although it might be possible to try both strategies).  Sure, it means giving up a lot of money, but it's better than going back to Q-School.  Whether her management team sees it the same way is another question.

But all that's for the future.  Right now, let's just appreciate Cheyenne Woods's career milestone!

[Update 1 (8:31 am):  Here's some linkage to the ALPG's story, Tony Jesselli's reaction, the AP's story via USA Today, and Randall Mell's coverage.]

[Update 2 (8:43 am):  Here's Martin Blake.]

[Update 3 (8:45 am):  Cheyenne's on the LPGA's field list.  But I think she won't have to get in on a sponsor exemption any more!  Wonder who will get hers?]

[Update 4 (9:14 am):  Here's Brent Kelley's take.  Now I'm curious to see how big this story gets during the Olympics.  Will it be overshadowed?  Or will it get picked up and hyped during the coverage?  There's no doubt this was a magical week for Woods, but so was Jaye Marie Green's last December in Q-School and she's going to need to adjust to the rigors of the LPGA like any other rookie.  I hope we'll be able to look back on both of their weeks as huge turning points in their careers, but nothing is guaranteed in golf.  Just got to keep trying to improve!]

[Update 5 (5:25 pm):  I appreciate bangkokbobby's point that Cheyenne is now making a name for herself.  Let's see where she takes it next!]

[Update 6 (5:31 pm):  Nice to see Cheyenne's name at the top of the LET Order of Merit!]

[Update 7 (5:55 pm):  Nice job by John Strege getting Cheyenne's mom's reactions!]

[Update 8 (9:38 pm):  Here's Stephanie Wei's quick take.]

[Update 9 (2/11/14, 6:54 am):  I appreciate the vote of confidence from Golf Babes!]


Tony Jesselli (Tonyj5) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tony Jesselli (Tonyj5) said...

I think it will be much easier for her to obtain her card via the Symetra Tour. It is very rare to obtain your card via the top 40 equivalent category, although Charley Hull has made it quite clear that she intends to get her LPGA card in that fashion. I say good luck to her with that.

DaveAndrews said...

I'll be surprised if she plays the Symetra Tour. She is currently listed as a sponsor's exemption for the Australia Open (according to the field list on the LPGA site). I think she will now get into the Open with her victory and won't have to use up the sponsor exemption. She may have also just qualified for the Evian and the British Open with her victory (off the LET criteria). Not sure about that.

The Constructivist said...

I know there's a downside to playing the Symetra Tour if she doesn't make the top 10. But she has to face the facts that she's got to maximize her odds of making it to the LPGA in 2015. If she can't play her way into the Honda event in Thailand this coming week, I'd love to see her focus on the 1st 4 Symetra Tour events, which don't conflict with any LET events. She's got to space out her LPGA sponsor invites, anyway.

diane said...

“Now I'm curious to see how big this story gets during the Olympics. Will it be overshadowed? Or will it get picked up and hyped during the coverage?”

Oh, come on. The 209th ranked player in the world won a tournament on the other side of the world. The MSM is not going to ignore the Olympics in favor of Cheyenne Woods. If it does I’ll be throwing my lot in with Howard Beale.

I think Woods win will be good for women’s golf, particularly in the US. I hope she does attract some notice. And I hope that whichever route she chooses to earn her LPGA Tour card in 2015 is successful. But supplanting Olympic coverage?

diane said...

Ooops, my bad...

She was the 363rd ranked player when the tournament started, not the 209th.

Also, Bruce didn't say she would supplant Olympic coverage, but wondered if she would get some acknowledgement during the coverage. I'm guessing if she does it will be in relation to the summer Olympics that will include golf, although her chances of making the team are less than minimal. (I hope I eat my words)

The Constructivist said...

I was thinking the whole "USA! USA!" thing along with her name might work in her favor--maybe a mention? It's clearly taken her too long to win as a pro for the hype machine to grind into action. Which is definitely a good thing. Maybe the media is learning. But a little excitement would be nice.

DaveAndrews said...

I heard she has committed to playing a full Symetra Tour schedule. Surprised by that. She will probably skip some that conflict with invitations to LPGA events. And I think she is automatically in the Evian this summer (maybe the British Open as well). Of course there are only two ways to earn an LPGA card for 2015 (short of winning an LPGA event, which is unlikely) through the Symetra Tour or Q School. Q School is always a gamble. The Symetra way rewards consistent play over a season.