The Symetra Tour is the official developmental tour of the LPGA. It is made up primarily of young women from all around the world who have just turned pro and are trying to make the big jump to the highest level in women’s professional golf. The tour’s official nickname is “The Road to the LPGA.” It’s the equivalent of the Triple A league in Major League Baseball.
Each year the top 10 money earners on the Symetra Tour receive full playing status on the LPGA for the following season. In 2013 the tour might have been better nicknamed “The Road Back to the LPGA.” Only one of the 10 players that earned her playing status on the LPGA for this year’s season will be a true rookie. The other nine have made it up to the LPGA in past seasons (either through the Symetra Tour or LPGA Q School), but they did not perform well enough… make enough money… to keep their cards. Their stories point to the difficulty of making a steady (and lucrative) career as a professional woman golfer. It is very hard getting to the LPGA. It is just as hard for many to stay there.
The only true LPGA rookie out of the Symetra Tour this year is Giulia Molinaro from Italy. Molinaro, who played college golf at Arizona State University, spent just the 2013 season on the Symetra tour and finished 2nd on the money list with just under $40,000 in earnings. Molinaro has done what few players have done, going from Symetra Tour rookie to LPGA rookie in only one year. Most players spend a few years on the Symetra Tour before they are able to make the jump to the LPGA. The vast majority of Symetra players never make it to the LPGA.
The other nine top finishers on the Symetra Tour’s money list have had LPGA status in the past. All of them had to return to the Symetra Tour last year, or for the past few years, because they lost the LPGA playing status they had gained in previous seasons either through the Symetra Tour or Q School.
Here are the other nine players and the year (in parenthesis) that they first earned their LPGA cards.
P.K Kongkraphan-Thailand (2013)
Marina Alex-USA (2012)
Christine Song-USA (2010)
Cydney Clanton-USA (2012)
Sue Kim-Canada (2013)
Hannah Jun-USA (2008)
Perrine Delacour-France (2013)
Alena Sharp-Canada (2005)
Jaclyn Sweeney-USA (2011)
There will be 28 rookies on the LPGA this year. 26 of those players earned their rookie cards through the Q School process. Besides Giulia Molinaro from the Symetra Tour, teenage sensation Lydia Ko earned her rookie card by winning an LPGA event in 2013.
Of those 26 players, just 9 earned full playing status by finishing in the top 20 at Q School. That gives them Category 12 status on the LPGA’s player priority list. They will get into all of the full field events this season, giving them a good opportunity to make money and maintain their playing status for 2015. The top 125 finishers on the LPGA money list each season are assured of playing status for the following year.
The other 17 rookies from Q School (those who finished 21st to 44th) earned limited playing status, Category 17, which will only get them into a handful of LPGA events this year. That means they will have to take advantage of those few playing opportunities to climb up the LPGA money list, or they will have to return to the Symetra Tour or Q School. Many of those players will play primarily on the Symetra Tour this season and hope they can finish the 2014 season in the top 10 on that tour’s money list.
The story of Hannah Yun exemplifies how difficult it is for players to reach the LPGA tour and to stay there once they have. Yun, who will turn 22 in April, first earned her full status card on the LPGA at Q School in December of 2011. She had already played three full seasons on the Symetra Tour at that point without doing well enough to earn her LPGA card that way.
The gifted teenager played a full season on the LPGA in 2012. However, like most rookies, she had a hard time competing at the top level. She made only 4 cuts in 16 events, earning less than $30,000, and finished the year 116th on the tour’s money list. She returned to the final stage of LPGA Q School in December of 2012, trying to improve her playing status for the 2013 season.
Yun did not do well at Q School and dropped to 152nd place on the LPGA’s priority list for the 2013 season (she maintained tour status for 2013 because she had finished in the top 125 on the money list in 2012). Her struggles continued in the limited number of LPGA events she was able to enter. She missed the cut in each of the 6 events she played. Midway through the 2013 season she lost her LPGA playing status through the “reshuffle” in the priority list and she was forced to drop down to the Symetra Tour for the remainder of the year.
Her play and results improved dramatically against the lesser competition on that tour. She had several good finishes, including a win (her first as a pro) in the Symetra Tour’s Volvik Championship in August. She finished the Symetra Tour season in 20th place on the tour’s money list. That was not good enough, however, to earn her LPGA status for the 2014 season.
She returned to the final stage of LPGA Q School last December where she shot a 68 in the first round and was tied for 4th place early in the five-day event. But her scores went up over the next four days and she finished the event in 63rd place, not good enough to earn her any LPGA status for this season.
So this year Hannah Yun will be playing a full season again on the Symetra Tour. Her goal is to finish in the top 10 on the money list and automatically return to the LPGA fulltime in 2015. She is not alone in her up-and-down ride in women’s professional golf. The competition is intense, and only those with strong physical skills and an equally-strong mental game last a long time on the LPGA tour.
The LPGA schedule has grown again this year. There will be 32 events, an increase of four from 2013. The season gets underway at the end of January with the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic. For the new rookies (or any player) it is all about making cuts and earning paychecks. In professional golf that is what it’s all about. If you don’t play well, it’s back to “the minors” where the road to the top of the hill starts all over again.
About the Author: Dave Andrews is a Harvard-educated former television news reporter. Dave is an avid golfer who has become a fan of the LPGA and the Symetra Tour. He is the author of Pops and Sunshine, a novel and screenplay about life on the women’s tour. The screenplay has been optioned by a production company in Hollywood.