Counting down the Symetra Tour's top 12 stories of 2012: No. 6

Over the next 12 days leading up to the new year, symetratour.com will count down the top-12 most memorable stories of the tour’s 2012 season. Coming in at No. 6 is Recognizing Champions.

Recognizing Champions

The No. 6 top story of the year is slated to the 2012 Symetra Tour winners and a recap of their victories. The Tour’s depth in terms of talent was apparent this season with 15 different winners coming on a 16-event schedule.

Five different countries were represented in the winner’s circle (U.S. (10 wins), Australia (2), South Korea (2), Colombia, and Thailand) and mirrored the global reach of the LPGA. Scottsdale, Ariz. native Esther Choe was the Tour’s only two-time winner in 2012 while 10 of the winners captured victories for the first time in their careers. Jenny Gleason and Misun Cho clinched their third-career victories this season and Paola Moreno, Leah Wigger and Kristie Smith each got win No. 2.

 

Megan McChrystal- Florida’s Natural Charity Classic

Stuart, Fla. native Megan McChrystal got the 2012 season started off on the right foot by clinching her first Symetra Tour victory at the season-opening Florida’s Natural Charity Classic. McChrystal held a one-shot lead heading into Sunday’s final round and her 2-over 74 was enough to hold off Nicole Smith and Sara-Maude Juneau for the one-stroke win. Her $18,750 winner’s check put her at the top of the money list and helped her hold a spot in the top-10 for 11-consective weeks. 

“I don’t have any words right now, it feels really good actually,” said McChrystal after her win. “I’m speechless which is something different.”

 

Esther Choe- Sara Bay Classic

The field at the Sara Bay Classic battled the tough track at Sara Bay Country Club where the winning score did not even break par. Sixth-year pro Esther Choe clinched her first professional win and finished four strokes ahead of Mi Hyang Lee and Hannah Jun.

“I feel great,” said Choe. “It’s been a long time coming. I turned pro at 17, right out of high school and I was the No. 1 junior player so there were a lot of expectations and had a couple rough years. So I took some time off and regrouped and got it together and am glad I got this far. It just gives me confidence.” 

Choe’s $15,000 winner’s check put her at No. 2 on the money list. She would go on to outdo herself at the Tour’s next stop in Mexico.

Esther Choe- Riviera Nayarit Classic

Coming off her first professional victory, Esther Choe kept her powerful momentum going when the Tour traveled south of the border at its only international event. Choe would post rounds of 67-71-69 to finish 12-under par to clinch the six-stroke win. 

She joined an accomplished group of winners who went back-to-back in their careers and eventually earn their ways onto the LPGA Tour. Seo-Jae Lee (2007), Mindy Kim (2008), Vicky Hurst (2008), Mina Harigae (2009), Christine Song (2010) and Sydnee Michaels (2011) all used their double-up wins to finish within the top-5. Hurst and Harigae were named the Tour’s Player of the Year in 2008 and 2009, an honor Choe earned at the end of the 2012 season. Choe’s $18,750 check boosted her to No. 1 on the money list and would help her hold the second or top spot throughout the rest of the year.

Sara Brown- My Marsh Classic

Five-year pro Sara Brown shot a three-under 69 in the final round of the inaugural My Marsh Classic to clinch her first professional win. Brown purchased new wedges before the event and the new sticks proved to be magic for the Tuscon, Ariz. native.

“Awesome,” said Brown of her first Symetra Tour victory. “To be honest I guess you should go into every tournament thinking you are going to win but this one is on a new golf course and I was just ready to play. I got some new wedges in the bag and I just hit them good, hit my drives good and the greens were amazing.” 

With the $15,000 winnings, Brown entered the top-10 at No. 4 and held a spot in the race for 11 weeks. She finished No. 12 on the season-ending money list.

 

Lauren Doughtie- Ladies Titan Tire Challenge

Suffolk, Va. native Lauren Doughtie sat four strokes off the lead heading into Sunday’s final round of the Ladies Titan Tire Challenge but quietly chipped away through the final 18 holes to finish regulation tied with Marissa Steen at the top of the leaderboard. Doughtie birdied the last two holes in regulation to force the playoff but had to pass time on the range to wait for Steen who was four groups back.

On how she felt going into the playoff: “I did ok, did better than I thought," said Doughtie. "Once I got that first swing in off the tee I felt a lot better. I didn't want to try to force it because it could've gone anywhere." 

She would go on to sink a 15-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole on No. 18 to clinch her first professional win. Doughtie finished the season No. 21 on the money list but would go on to earn LPGA Tour exempt status for the 2013 season at the Final Qualifying Tournament where she earned a spot in the top-20…in a playoff.

 

Kristie Smith- Tate & Lyle Players Championship

Kristie Smith pieced together three solid days of golf in Decatur, Ill. to clinch her second-career victory at the Tate & Lyle Players Championship. The Perth, Australia native posted three bogey-free rounds of 69-68-66 to finish 13-under par, clinching the three-stroke win. Smith’s last win came at the 2010 Daytona Beach Invitational and said the victory in Illinois was much more meaningful to her career than the win two years ago.

“This one, definitely this one,” said Smith. “The other one, I was full of confidence and having a couple good years in Europe. I sort of hit my wall about a year ago so this is definitely bigger than that.”

 

Leah Wigger- Island Resort Championship

Leah Wigger opened her final round of the Island Resort Championship with back-to-back birdies and never looked back en route to her second-career win and first since 2008. The Louisville, Ky. native posted rounds of 73-66-70 to finish at 7-under par and three strokes ahead a group of three including Victoria Elizabeth, Victoria Park and Nicole Jeray. Wigger would go on to play only two more events in 2012 due to conflicts with her new position as an assistant coach at the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill.

 

Jenny Gleason- Northeast Delta Dental International

LPGA and Symetra Tour veteran Jenny Gleason has had plenty of experience in high-pressure situations and it was no surprise that she gave a classic one-liner after clinching her third Symetra Tour victory in a one-hole playoff. 

“Pressure’s something you put in tires,” said Gleason.

After carding bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 in regulation and missing a six-foot birdie putt on No. 18 to be forced into the playoff, Gleason went into sudden death with No. 1 ranked Esther Choe. Without any loss of confidence, Gleason would stick her approach shot on the first playoff hole within inches of the pin and tapped in after Choe lipped out her 30-foot birdie putt.

“This one is big,” said Gleason. “It’s neat when you work hard and you make changes and you finally see results. It always seems like it’s the other side of the story where you’re making changes and you struggle and struggle and feel like you’re doing the right things. You just gotta stick with it.”

 

Victoria Elizabeth­- Credit Union Classic

In her third year on Tour as a professional, Victoria Elizabeth made her breakthrough in Syracuse N.Y. where she notched her first-career win at the Credit Union Classic. Holding a share of the lead heading into Sunday’s final round, Elizabeth started her last 18 holes with three-consecutive birdies en route to a 4-under 68. 

The Dayton, Ohio native finished the week 12-under and with $15,000 in her pocket. The win pushed her to No. 2 on the money list, and she would hold a spot in the top-3 throughout the rest of the 2012 season, finishing at No. 3.

 

Jaclyn Sweeney- Credit Union Challenge

Jaclyn Sweeney turned in a gutsy performance in the final round of the Credit Union Challenge to clinch her first professional victory in Albany, N.Y. The Bradenton, Fla. native birdied four of her last six holes en route to a 4-under 68, to beat out Olivia Jordan-Higgins by one stroke.

Sweeney jumped from No. 34 to No. 5 on the money list but could not hold onto a spot in the top-10, falling out after Week 14 at the Symetra Classic and finished 13th on the season-ending money list.

 

Julia Boland- Four Winds Invitational

Symetra Tour rookie Julia Boland overcame daunting nerves and the longest one-foot putt of her life on the 18th hole at the Four Winds Invitational to clinch her first professional win.

“It was terribly long, trust me,” said Boland. “It was absolutely terrifying to be honest. I’ve never had such a difficult, I guess it was like a foot, I don’t even know at this point to be honest. But I said to my caddy when I marked it, ‘do you see my hand shaking?’ I thought it was going to be hard to put it back down. It wasn’t as easy as what I hope I made it look like.”

The Tamworth, Australia native erased a three-shot deficit on Sunday and carded a bogey-free 3-under 69 to finish 4-under for the week. She earned the Tour’s biggest winner’s check of $22,500 and jumped from No. 30 to No. 3 on the money list with her win. Boland finished the season No. 8 to earn her LPGA Tour card.
 

Paola Moreno- Eagle Classic

Paola Moreno’s second-career win came down to the very last putt of the 2012 Eagle Classic in Richmond, Va. When the Colombia native sank her 8-foot winning putt, she thought it was to force a playoff with Jenny Gleason.

“I honestly thought it was for a playoff,” Moreno said of her winning 8-foot putt. “I thought I checked the board and saw a nine under there and I was 8-under. I thought I needed to make that putt to get in a playoff. Then I double checked after I won, and my caddie was like ‘you won!’ And I said ‘what? No way’ So I was very excited.” 

Moreno shook off a two-shot deficit on the 14th hole to go on to birdie three out of the final four holes en route to a final round 3-under 69.

“At the end of the round, that’s when my game started to get better,” said Moreno. “I was very nervous from 10 to 14. I made a great putt on 15 and then had a great shot on 16.” 

Misun Cho- Challenge at Musket Ridge

Coming off a career-best day in the second round of the Challenge at Musket Ridge, Misun Cho knew it would be hard to replicate her brilliant play on Sunday. The South Korean did not match her 64 in the final round, but battled off a weather delay and a charge from third-year pro Sarah Brown for her third-career Symetra Tour victory. Cho shot an even-par 72 with only one birdie coming on the par 3 second hole to clinch the win.

Cho’s $15,000 winner’s check pushed her from No. 43 to No. 17 on the money list. She would finish the season at No. 19.

Mi Hyang Lee- Symetra Classic

Mi Hyang Lee overcame a five-shot deficit to capture her first-career Symetra Tour victory at the Symetra Classic in Charlotte, N.C. Lee entered the final day trailing Allison Hanna but fired a final-round 4-under par 68 that included eight birdies and four bogeys. 

“I just wanted to have a good finish but when I shot 6-under par 30 I thought I could make a run on the back-nine,” said Lee. “Coming down the stretch I just wanted to stay calm but I was really nervous, I never felt that before.”

Lee spent the first seven weeks in the top-10 on the money list and reentered after her win. She moved into the No. 4 position and finished the season No. 6. Lee also earned Gaelle Truet Rookie of the Year honors.

Thidapa Suwanapura- Vidalia Championship

On a day where only six players were under par, Thidapa Suwannapura withstood a two-hole playoff to earn her first Symetra Tour victory at the Vidalia Championship. Suwannapura held off then-ranked No. 3 Paola Moreno for the $16,500 winner’s check. The win could not have come at a more opportune time and helped the Thailand native break into the top-10 for the first time all season with only one event left on the schedule. She finished the year No. 4.

Daniela Iacobelli- Daytona Beach Invitational

In what proved to be the most prolific win of the season, Daniela Iacobelli brought a do or die attitude into the last event of the season which proved to work right in her favor. The Floridian needed a victory in the final week of the 2012 season in order to break into the top-10 on the money list and to earn her LPGA Tour card. Iacobelli posted rounds of 69-68-68 to finish 11-under par for the week and clinched her first-career win. She was able to hold her 2013 LPGA Tour card in the air after the $18,750 winner’s check moved her from No. 22 to No. 5 on the money list. She was the only player to move into the top-10 in the final week.

Topics: Counting Down, Esther Choe