South African amateur Kelli Shean has completed her first-ever LPGA event with honours after signing for rounds of 76, 67 and 69 for a competition total of 212, one-under-par and a pay check of US$14,015 (which due to her status as an amateur, she is unable to collect) at the P&G Beauty NW Arkansas Championship, at the Pinnacle Country Club, in Rogers, Arkansas, USA.
Kelli can look back at her first LPGA event with much pride after finishing alongside golfers like Michelle Wie, Christie Kerr and Jane Park. The event attracted a 150-strong field including 27 of the world’s top 30 golfers, and South Africa’s other superstar and Kelli’s 2007 Espirito Santo Trophy-winning partner, Ashleigh Simon.
This was a massive week for Kelli, and she did it in style, shooting a 2-under 69 the previous week to win the qualification match and qualify for the LPGA event, celebrating her 22nd birthday, Kelli also had the bonus of sharing it with her great friend, Ashleigh.
It has been two full years since these two members of the Espirito Santo Trophy winning-team have seen each other, and about three since taking part in an event.
Friday’s round saw Kelli off to a terrible start, shooting a five-over 76 and tied for 126th spot. Speaking to her after the round, she was really disappointed with her performance and suggested that nerves played a massive part. After a chat to “Team Shean” in South Africa, Kelli decided that she would play for fairways and attack the pin.
Round two saw Kelli on the tee pretty early on Saturday morning knowing that there was a mountain to climb if she was going to achieve the goal that she has set out to achieve teeing it up on Friday morning, to make the cut in her first LPGA event.
With the support of her team mates, The Razorbacks who by Saturday morning had all created and donned pro-Kelli t-shirts with slogans such as “Go Kelz”, and “We Love Kelli”, the South African star set about her round. Kelli began her second round on the 10th tee, birdied the par-4 12th, her third, and par-5 14th, her fifth, as she made the turn at 2-under par for the day.
A birdie on the par-4 1st hole, her tenth, moved her to 3-under for the day until she gave it back with a bogey on the par-3 3rd, her 13th. A birdie on the par-4 5th, her fifteenth, moved her back to 3-under on the round. She had birdie opportunities on the 7th and 8th holes, her sixteenth and seventeenth, but both putts stopped next to the hole, leaving tap-in pars.
Needing a birdie on her last hole, the 351-yard par-4 9th, to give herself a chance to make the cut, Kelli came good. After her tee shot found the bunker on the left-hand side of the fairway, 97 yards from the uphill green, Kelli hit a gap wedge that landed on the back of the green before spinning back to within 12 feet of the cup.
Facing a slightly uphill putt, Kelli stroked a perfect putt that rolled into the heart of the cup, much to her relief as members of the crowd broke into the University’s of Arkansas’s ‘Hog Call’.
Signing for a 4-under 67 and a long wait, Kelli finally achieving her goal of making the cut. Speaking to her after the round, she was so thrilled and excited (between signing autographs) to have played the golf she knows she can with her team mates around her, as Shauna Estes-Taylor (her coach) and Mike (assistant-coach), waited for the final pairings on Sunday.
In making the cut, Kelli has become the only amateur to qualify for an LPGA event this season and then make the cut, in addition, she is one of only four players who made tournaments fields through the qualifying process to make the cut on the LPGA this season. Of the four who made the cut, only Allison Hanna-Williams had a higher tournament finish.
Chatting to Kelli before her final round, and while discussing a strategic plan for her last round, playing for fairways and yet again, attacking the pin’s as the order of the day, I could hear in her voice that the confidence that she had a year ago was back. Heading out and signing for a 2-under par 69, three birdies and a bogie, Kelli not only achieved her goal, but finished tied for 27th.
Wrapping up her first LPGA outing, Shauna had the following to say; “A great experience for Kelli. She played amazing golf the last two days and it was a lot of fun to watch. I think it’s a window into what she’s going to do this season so I’m really excited about that.
“Kelli needed some confidence and this was the perfect opportunity to fill that tank up with confidence going into our season,” said Shauna. “She hit the ball nicely, she putted well which is sometimes her weakness. So to gain some good experience on the greens in competition is something very valuable for her.”
Another Razorback, one of America’s newest up-and-coming talent Stacey Lewis, finished the tournament at 2-under with rounds of 73,67 and 71. Kelli and the Razorback women’s golf team open the 2009-10 season Saturday, at the Branch Law Firm/Dick McGuire Invitational in Albuquerque, New Mexico.